The heir to the Saudi throne is keen to change the austere image of Saudi Arabia through a series of moves such as giving women the right to drive and the opening of movie theatres, despite opposition from religious hardliners. These are some of the more recent measures initiated in the kingdom:
WOMEN ALLOWED TO DRIVE
In a historic decision, Saudi Arabia ended its longstanding ban on women drivers. Accordingly, women will be allowed to drive from June this year under a royal decree that was issued in September 2017.
The move has sparked waves of euphoria and optimism among the women of the Islamic nation, which was the only country to ban women from driving. Neither Islamic law nor Saudi traffic law explicitly prohibits women from driving, but they were not issued licences and were detained if they attempted to drive.
The decision to allow women to drive is considered a part of the crown prince’s social and economic reform plan known as Vision 2030, which aims at increasing women’s participation in the workforce from 22 per cent to 30 per cent by 2030 in a bid to wean oil-rich Saudi Arabia off its dependence on resource by stimulating growth in the private sector and promoting tourism.
BAN ON CINEMAS LIFTED
The Gulf kingdom lifted its public ban on commercial cinemas and is readying for a rush of cinema operators eager to turn the Middle Eastern country into a nation of moviegoers. The country’s first movie theater in more than 35 years will open on April 18 by AMC Theatres in Riyadh, with plans for up to 100 theatres in some 25 Saudi cities by 2030.
These movie theatres will not be segregated by gender like most other public places in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom. Saudi Arabia had some cinemas in the 1970s but its powerful clerics closed them, reflecting rising Islamist influence throughout the Arab region at the time. In 2017, the government said it would lift the ban as part of Mohammed bin Salman’s efforts to transform society.
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