Four exciting years in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia today is very different from what it was just a few years ago. The page has been turned to begin a new era through a series of courageous decisions to repeal a number of laws that previously dominated the local scene.
The events of the past four years have marked the end of two-thirds of a century that were filled with social norms and government legislation that presented obstacles to development, normal life, business and social relations.
This series of changes began on the day the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 was announced. Anyone can claim they were behind this change, but the change began in Saudi Arabia when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took on the task of development in the government of King Salman. Since then, not a month has passed without the issuance of new decisions addressing the concepts, legislation, services, and the state’s relationship with its citizens and society.
We can see many examples of the resultant changes to daily life in the Kingdom; the decision to grant women more of the rights to which they are entitled, for example, is a story in its own right.
Saudi Arabia is betting on its development of the entire state and the economy. It is a huge project that affects all aspects of life in the country — and it cannot follow the old approach that was taken by the Kingdom for so many generations.
There have been, on one hand, contradictions that reflect official ambitions, such as giving women grants to study abroad in Western universities, and, on the other hand, obstacles that reflect officially approved social constraints that prevent women from many activities associated with study, work, travel and other activities.
In the space of just four years, life has changed greatly in Riyadh and Jeddah, and even in smaller cities. Movie theaters have opened, women can drive cars on public roads, forums are being held, cafes are open to all, and more women are now employed in shopping malls than men. All of these things were forbidden to until recently, and women would be punished if they tried to participate in activities they were excluded from.
A number of official decisions issued the day before yesterday have removed the last remaining obstacles to gender equality. A number of amendments to laws, all of which give women and men equal rights, were announced which are probably more progressive than the civil laws affecting women in other Arab countries.
In the space of just four years, life has changed greatly in Riyadh and Jeddah, and even in smaller cities
The amendments include improvements to the rights of women in court, where they have until now been treated more severely than men. In addition, Saudi women who wants to work will no longer require the approval of her husband, father or legal guardian.
The list of bans and obstacles to equality that the government’s recent decisions have removed is a long one. The sheer number, nature and application of the changes, alongside the fact that most people in the country have accepted them, are proof that the Saudi leadership is wise and courageous, and can accomplish what was until recently thought to be impossible.
The fierce campaign by some against Saudi Arabia, and the crown prince in particular, fails to understand the priorities of the Saudi people. It does not realize the importance of the significant changes that are taking place inside the Kingdom, changes that will positively affect its Arab and Islamic surroundings. This is the project of the future for which we all care more than anything else.
- Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @aalrashed