November 19, 2019

A Rapidly Changing Saudi Arabia

“For Saudis these days, life is a roller coaster. Even as Iranian missiles threaten their national security and livelihood, previously unimaginable social freedoms accelerate. All this leaves some Saudis squealing with delight; others are frozen with fright.

During a three-week visit, the public delight is visible everywhere from the capital city to remote rural provinces like Jizan in the south and Tabuk in the north. Teenage Saudi girls scream hysterically at a performance here by the Korean boy band BTS. Young Saudi women with bared faces run a 5K through city streets clad only in short-sleeved T-shirts and tight leggings. Groups of young men and women relax together in Starbucks. Hotels are no longer permitted to ask Saudi couples for proof of marriage at check-in. All this change and more in a society where until very recently women, uniformly clad in floor-length abayas, couldn’t exercise, drive or appear in public with men other than close relatives.

This most puritanical of Islamic societies is increasingly mirroring Western mores as the government seeks to attract foreign tourists and investors whose money is needed to diversify the kingdom’s oil-dependent economy.”

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