Though it is still far too early to measure the extent of ongoing changes, the most striking being the end of the female driving ban, the year that is coming to an end has been one of great progress that until very recently would have been unthinkable.


I still recall the magnitude of negative criticism I received when, in 2005, I proposed a one-day holiday, the Saudi Arabian National Day celebration. The widespread opposition was based on religious beliefs, stipulating that celebrating a National Day is totally prohibited in Islam.

Alternatively, the government had the 23rd of September, the date representing the unification of Saudi Arabia, recognized only in the national media. A year later, another taboo restricted us from playing the national anthem on stage before the King and hundreds of participants in a regional conference held in Jeddah. We had prepared a fanciful opening ceremony that would have combined the national anthem with theatrical scenes played by young gifted students. The head of the Royal Protocol rejected our plan and personally informed me that if the National Anthem was to be performed on stage that some invitees would abstain from standing up, which would in turn be an embarrassment for the King.

In 2017, almost 10 years later, Saudis, both men and women, flowed to the streets of the capital city, Riyadh, to celebrate our National Day on September 23rd. I was on my way to a live TV show: a routine trip which usually took me 15 minutes, required almost 2 hours. People were dancing in the streets to national songs, interacting together, wrapped in Saudi Flags without any critical violations reported to the law and order. As we went live on air, during the TV program, I asked the audience to mark September 23rd, 2017 as a defining moment in the history of Saudi Arabia: "What was once a major taboo, after tonight, shall never be again!” Needless to say, a few days later, Saudis and the rest of the world were surprised by a Royal Decree addressed to the Ministry of Interior, demanding that from 2018 driving licenses be issued equally to both men and women in Saudi Arabia. This was a moment that we had all been long waiting for. The first thought I entertained was the relief of never again having to address the inquiry of when the Saudi Arabian Government would finally allow women to drive.

As a matter of fact, 2017 has brought major changes to the Kingdom thanks to the leadership of the Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. The Crown Prince is the engineer behind the ground-breaking political and economic plan, Saudi Vision 2030, and he has been working extremely hard since January 2015 to deliver on his self-imposed ambitious targets. In a Kingdom where 70% of the population is within his age group, below 30 years old, he will undoubtedly be attractive to his fellow millennials who see in him the possibility of a future they have longed for.

Change has taken Saudi Arabia by a storm, paving the way for the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 to be implemented. Replacing statesmen with businessmen to head and lead administrations will certainly help in overcoming the resource curse: allowing the country to welcome foreign investments, impose taxes and increase energy prices. Indeed, the reform in the Kingdom is not limited to issues related to gender. Notwithstanding, women’s issues have long been at the heart of battles fought between liberals and conservatives. The leadership is arduously trying to appear unbiased to either group, as well as introducing changes that are neither the result of internal nor external pressures.

A major revolution is happening in terms of mindset. A heritage of almost 40 years of radicalization of our society is about to fade. However, one must not forget the constraints on Saudi Arabia as the birthplace of Islam, where the holiest sites for Muslims are located. The Kingdom’s leadership is fully aware of its obligations and is practicing and implementing change carefully when it comes to delicate issues pertaining to the Islamic Identity of the Kingdom. Having said that, one must acknowledge and recognize that those opposing change have resorted to silence or have decided to hide behind fake social media accounts to voice their dissent. This is perhaps an indication that they may be fewer than one thinks.

Perhaps most of the obstacles that were called religious barriers to change were rather social warnings which took a religious form to legitimize their obstructive nature. It seems to me that Saudis - in general- not only accept change, but actually embraced the news of women being authorized to drive, musical concerts being performed, and eradicating segregation in the work places. In the meanwhile, laws on the guardianship, harassment, and the opening more slots for female employment are on the discussion table. Yes, it is too early to evaluate the process and the outcomes of the change as well as the consequences on the future of social contracts in the Kingdom. However, many youth cannot hide their enthusiasm and support for the Saudi vision 2030.