Saudi Arabia needs to do more than just letting women drive

There is a wind of change blowing in Saudi Arabia. There have been some encouraging changes in Saudi Arabia. (1) Oil prices are going up – State-owned Aramco, the world’s biggest oil producer, jacked up prices at the pump by as much as 127% on January 1. Premium gasoline now costs 2.04 riyals per liter — equivalent to about $2.05 a gallon. (2) Cinemas have returned – After a 35-year ban, the government will begin granting commercial movie theater licenses this year.Music can be played in public (3) Women can drive cars now – The move is expected to spur growth and give women a much bigger role in the economy. Only 22% of women are active in the workforce. Vision 2030 aims to lift that to 30%. The government has set itself the target of generating 65% of GDP from the private sector, and getting more women into work force. This was a decision taken by the Royal family, not because of rioting in the street. (4) Women can now watch sports – The General Sport Authority, the country’s governing body for sports, said in October that three of the country’s biggest stadiums will begin “accommodating families” early in the year.

(5) Tourist will get visas – Prince Sultan bin Salman, head of the Saudi tourism and national heritage commission said the kingdom would issue its first tourist visas in 2018. Visas were previously restricted to people traveling to the country for work or to visit its holy sites. The oil-rich country is planning an ambitious overhaul of its tourism industry that includes constructing resorts on about 100 miles of sandy coastline. The Red Sea Project will be completed by 2022, according to a statement from the country’s sovereign wealth fund.(6) Aramco will be privatized–Saudi Arabia officials are planning to sell a small stake in Aramco. They expect an IPO to around $2 trillion.

These changes are not enough. The young generation, more than anyone else, have put all their hope on young and aspiring Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, 33. They hope that he will not only break up this outdated, entrenched societal structure but will also give them possibilities for economic participation.

Saudi Arabia is heavily involved in a long and destructive ‘cold war’ in Yemen. King Salman of Saudi Arabia declared the Royal Saudi Air Force to be in full control of Yemeni airspace within hours of the operation beginning in 2015. The airstrikes were aimed at hindering the Houthis’ advance toward President Hadi’s stronghold in southern Yemen. There will be no clear winner in this proxy war which is being fought for regional hegemony.

Then there is ongoing struggle for influence in the Middle East between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The two countries have provided varying degrees of support to opposing sides in nearby conflicts, including the civil war in Syria. All these war expenses can be used inside Saudi Arabia. Prince Muhammad bin Salman has made peaceful overtures towards Israel which is a welcome sign. Country is known for its Sharia law and for the fierce Wahhabi doctrine it has spread across the planet, Progress will come only after there is peace inside the country and on its borders.

ZakariaVirk, Editor

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