Under the Saudi Crown Prince, five significant social reforms


The decision by Saudi Arabia to allow alcohol sales to non-Muslim diplomats, according to two sources, is the latest in a series of reforms aimed at projecting a more open, moderate image.

Here are five other headline-grabbing changes implemented in recent years under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose reputation was dealt a major blow by the 2018 murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, reports AFP.

Cinemas reopened

In April 2018, “Black Panther” was the first film to be shown in Saudi Arabia in 35 years when the country lifted a ban imposed on cinemas by its clerics in the 1970s.

Riyadh said it planned to open up over 300 cinemas by 2030.

Like TV programmes, films are however subject to rigorous selection and censorship to avoid portrayals of sex, religion or politics.

Women at the wheel

In June 2018, Saudi Arabia lifted a decades-long ban on women driving — the only one of its kind in the world which left women dependent on men for mobility.

Since 2018, thousands of women have slipped behind the wheel, with some going on to become mechanics and taxi drivers.

The euphoria created by the move was dented however by a major crackdown on many of the women activists who had previously campaigned to lift the ban.

Travel without male ‘guardian’

In 2019, Saudi women aged 21 or more were allowed to apply for a passport and travel abroad without first obtaining the consent of a male “guardian” — husband, father or other male relative.

The move marked a significant loosening of the controversial guardianship system, under which men exercise near-total authority over women.

Tourists welcome

In a bid to reduce its reliance on oil revenues and diversify the economy, Saudi Arabia in September 2019 began opening up to tourism — its so-called “white oil” — for the first time.

Until then Saudi Arabia had only issued visas to Muslim pilgrims, expatriate workers, or, from 2018, people attending sporting and cultural events.

Prince Mohammed a year earlier had announced a massive tourism project to turn 50 islands and a string of sites on the Red Sea into luxury resorts.

Tourists who flout the country’s rules on modest attire risk heavy fines however.

Gender mixing

Long forbidden, men and women have in recent years been allowed to mingle in public.

Women were allowed enter a football stadium to watch a match for the first time in 2018 and can now also attend concerts alongside men.

They also no longer need fear the stick-wielding guardians of public morality in order to bathe together at some beaches, and rules on the wearing of abaya robes have been relaxed.

Women, who had previously been restricted to a handful of careers, mainly in health and education, now also rub shoulders with men in the workplace.

Millions of women have entered the job market since 2016, becoming bankers, shoe sellers, business owners and border officers, among other professions.

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