Saudi Arabia lays groundwork for momentous change
Riyadh (OIC-UNA) – Saudi Arabia in 2017 laid the groundwork for momentous change next year, defying its reputation for slow and cautious reforms, by announcing plans to let women drive, allow movie theaters to return and to issue tourist visas.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman have upended social norms and traditional ways of doing business and bet instead on a young generation of Saudis hungry for change and a Saudi public fed up with corruption and bureaucracy, according to a report carried by The Associated Press.
Here’s a look at the major pivots of the past year and the reforms to come in 2018: Saudi Arabia announced in September that it would finally allow women to get behind the wheel. In June, the Kingdom plans to begin issuing licenses to women, even allowing them to drive motorcycles, according to reports. It will be a huge change for women who have had to rely on costly drivers or male relatives to get to work or school or to run errands and visit friends. In 2018, women will also be allowed to attend sporting matches in national stadiums, where they were previously banned. Designated family sections will ensure women are separate from male-only quarters of the stadiums. Women and families were allowed into the capital’s main stadium for National Day celebrations this year.
The Kingdom will allow movie theaters to open next year for the first time in more than 35 years after they were shut down in the 1980s. The first theaters are expected to open in March. Previously, Saudis could stream movies online or watch them on satellite TV. To attend a cinema, though, they would have to travel to neighboring countries like Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The opening of cinemas will give families and young Saudis another way to pass time as the Crown Prince introduces more entertainment options to encourage local spending.
This past year, rapper Nelly and two Games of Thrones stars came to perform in Saudi Arabia for the first time. John Travolta also visited the Kingdom, meeting with fans and talking to them about the US film industry. It’s a notable shift from just a few years ago, when the religious police would shoo women out of malls for wearing bright nail polish, insist restaurants turn off music and break up gatherings where unrelated men and women were mixing.
The entertainment drive started earlier this year, with an all-male concert by Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu, which was both nostalgic and groundbreaking. Saudi Arabia also held two Comic-Con events in major cities, where thousands of fans dressed up in their favorite action-hero costumes. Actors Julian Glover and Charles Dance � Grand Maester Pycelle and Tywin Lannister from HBO’s “Game of Thrones” � made an appearance at one. Rock music blared in the halls.
President Donald Trump chose Saudi Arabia as the first stop in his first overseas tour as president. The visit marked the return of warm US-Saudi ties that had cooled under President Barack Obama, who helped secure a nuclear deal with Iran. Saudi Arabia literally rolled out a red carpet for his arrival. The president was treated to numerous state banquets, oversaw the signing of $110 billion in arms deals with the Kingdom and even joined in a traditional Saudi sword dance with the King and the Crown Prince. The centerpiece of the visit was an Arab-Islamic-US summit, which drew heads of state to the Saudi capital for Trump’s speech to Muslim world leaders.
The Kingdom will begin issuing its first tourist visas next year and announced plans to build a semi-autonomous Red Sea destination. In a bid to attract even greater foreign investment, the Crown Prince held a massive investment conference. He also announced plans for a futuristic city envisioned as a hub for technological innovation. The city will be funded by the Kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, which the prince oversees, as well as the Saudi government and a range of private and international investors.
Source: International Islamic News Agency