When I visited Saudi Arabia in October 2017, I was astonished by the abayas the Saudi women were wearing. They were stylish, colourful, rose-shaded, gold-patterned, with bell sleeves. I even saw one with green polka-dots in the shops. This was in stark contrast to my previous visits to the Kingdom, when all the women wore traditional black abayas. I also bought a new one (with bell sleeves).
The Saudi social environment is also being relaxed:
- Although I love abayas, they are no longer mandatory in public.
- Saudi women began legally driving in June 2018.
- More women hold jobs outside the home.
- Western women are no longer required to cover their hair in public.
- On January 12, 2018, female fans of the Saudi Professional League were able for the first time to attend soccer games.
- Saudi Arabia just hosted their first Fashion Week in April 2018.
- On April 10, 2018, Saudi Arabia hosted their first ever women’s cycle race.
- On April 18, 2018, AMC Entertainment opened the first cinema in Riyadh. This was the first movie theatre to have opened in 35 years.
- The cinema’s first feature film was Marvel’s “Black Panther.”
- The Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information has signed an agreement with AMC to open approximately 40 cinemas in 15 cities over the next five years. Approximately 350 cinemas, with more than 2,500 screens, will be opened in the Kingdom by 2030.
- The first opera house is currently being built, which is expected to open in 2022, in the coastal city of Jeddah.
- In April 2018, the Saudi Public Investment Fund signed an agreement with Six Flags, an American amusement park corporation, to create an amusement park in Riyadh.
- There has been an increase of festivals and concerts from Western performers, including Yanni, a Greek New Age music artist active in the US, and Nelly, an American rapper.
- Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian theatrical production, made its Saudi debut in 2018.
The very first time I set foot in the Kingdom, I was awestruck by the mysterious and exotic culture, people and land. I now feel nostalgic for the old times: I bought 24K gold jewelry in the ancient souqs; I outfitted our Saudi home with traditional coffee pots, Bedouin necklaces and sabers, colourful stones from the Empty Quarter, even a totally intact Camel Skull from the Empty Quarter.
For me, those were the best of times.
On the other hand, I do love modern Riyadh with its high fashion shops, and gourmet restaurants. And I really wish I had bought that green polka-dot abaya…