These are exciting times for Saudi Arabia

The government has announced amendments to laws, giving women and men equal rights. These changes are probably more progressive than the civil laws in other Arab countries.

By Abdulrahman Al Rashed (Future Perfect)

Published: Sun 4 Aug 2019, 9:28 PM

Last updated: Sun 4 Aug 2019, 11:30 PM

Saudi Arabia today is very different from what it was just a few years ago. The country has turned the page to begin a new era through a series of courageous decisions that involved repealing of several laws that previously dominated the local scene.
Social norms and government legislation that once hindered development, normal life, businesses, and social relations are now being replaced with more progressive decrees. The events of the past four years are a testimony to the change that is happening in the kingdom.
The journey towards this transformation began with the announcement of the Kingdom's Vision 2030. It began when Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman took on the task of development in the government of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia. Since then, new decisions have been taken, and efforts have been made to address the concepts, legislation, services, and the state's relationship with its citizens and society.
The change is for all of us to see. The decision to grant women more rights, for instance, is a story in its own right.
Saudi Arabia is betting on the development of the entire state and the economy.
It is a huge project that will affect all aspects of life in the country - and such an ambitious project cannot be realised by following the old approach of the generations in the kingdom.
There are, however, some contradictions left, which should be addressed in time. For instance, the recent changes grant women the right to study abroad in Western universities, yet there are many social constraints that still prevent women from many activities associated with study, work, travel, and other activities.
In the span of just four years, life has changed drastically in Riyadh and Jeddah, and even in smaller cities. Movie theaters have opened, women can drive cars on public roads, forums are being held, cafes are open to all, and more women are now employed in shopping malls than men. All of these things were forbidden until recently, and women would be punished if they tried to participate in activities they were excluded from.
And now the kingdom has removed the last few remaining obstacles to gender equality, too, with a slew of new official orders. The government has announced amendments to laws, giving women and men equal rights. These changes are probably more progressive than the civil laws in other Arab countries.
The amendments include improvements to the rights of women in court, where they have until now been treated more severely than men. In addition, Saudi women who want to work will no longer require the approval of their husbands, fathers, or legal guardians.
The list of changes made thus far to empower women and ensure gender equality is a long one. The sheer number, nature, and application of the changes, alongside the fact that most people in the country have accepted them, are proof that the Saudi leadership is wise and courageous, and can accomplish what was previously thought to be impossible.
The fierce campaign by some against Saudi Arabia, and the crown prince, in particular, fails to understand the priorities of the Saudi people. It does not realise the importance of the significant changes that are taking place inside the kingdom, changes that will positively affect its Arab and Islamic surroundings.
This is the project of the future for which we all care more than anything else.
- Asharq Al Awsat
Abdulrahman Al Rashed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al Awsat

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