When the Arab Spring erupted across the Middle East in 2011, everyone looked at Saudi to see what would happen. And in true ‘Saudi time’ (we like to make an entrance), we made our moves in 2017. But unlike other countries, where the voice of change was instigated from the masses, Saudi-volution came from the top, the very top: HRH King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, and his son, the next in line, HRH Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman (affectionately called MBS by his citizens).
The Kingdom had already been undergoing positive economic changes under Saudi Vision 2030, but these latest ambitious actions under the leadership of MBS have ushered in a new era putting Saudi firmly on everyone’s radar. Here are my top 10 reasons why the largest Gulf nation of 33 million is 2018’s place to be...
1. With 70 per cent of the 33 million-strong population under the age of 30, you have a far larger pool of potential Instagram followers. #FollowMeBack
2. The ban on women driving is lifted and we should be seeing women driving on the streets by June 2018. Now, you too can sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic with your kids fighting in the backseat, just like soccer moms all over the world. #sisterhood
3. With commercial cinemas now opening, you don’t have to fly abroad just to share some popcorn with the husband.
4. In the wise words of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, as amplified by Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri, ‘We Should All Be Feminists’ and if there are two things Saudis are buying more into, it’s Dior and feminism. Saudi Arabia has been voted into the UN Women’s Rights Commission, making it one of 45 countries working to promote women’s rights and empowerment.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
5. Princess Reema bint Bandar was appointed as the Deputy for Planning and Development at the General Sports Authority, President of the Saudi Arabian Mass Participation Federation, paving the way for Saudi girls and women to embrace sports. Princess Reema tells Bazaar, “Saudi is the place to be in 2018. We look forward to hosting international and local sports events in the General Sports Authority stadiums.” Meanwhile, public schools have introduced PE for girls for the first time.
6. Saudi’s citizens are now smarter, thanks to Sophia, an intelligent humanoid robot, who was granted a green passport. Saudi is the first country in the world to give a bot this status.
7. A woman is controlling the purse strings of Saudi’s $439 billion bourse. Sarah Al Suhaimi was made chairperson of Saudi’s stock exchange – the largest in the Middle East.
8. Crack your glow sticks and swap your midas for some EDM sneakers because Saudi knows how to throw a celebration. And that’s exactly what we did for Saudi National Day. The General Entertainment Authority hosted thousands of cheering Saudis on the streets of Tahlia to witness an impressive firework show, parade, and live DJ. Meanwhile, rapper Nelly’s first concert in the Kingdom might have been men only but…
9. ...February 1 is Saudi’s Women’s Day because International Women’s Day wasn’t enough.
10. While the rest of the world is reeling from the Harvey Weinstein affair, Saudi’s King Salman is making sure that our new film industry doesn’t go down the same route: His Royal Highness has ordered the interior minister to criminalise sexual harassment, and women can now be employed by the ministry of justice in line with Vision 2030’s aim to empower women. …And if all of that were not enough, one of the world’s biggest philanthropists, Bill Gates, has joined forces with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s MiSK Foundation to fund ideas aimed at improving education and eradicating poverty.
Marriam Mossalli is the founder of Niche Arabia, a Saudi-based luxury consultancy firm