"Whether we like it or not, the majority of the country seem to be hesitant or opposing to change, especially change relating to the situation of women in the country." Simon Dawson / Bloomberg
"Whether we like it or not, the majority of the country seem to be hesitant or opposing to change, especially change relating to the situation of women in the country." Simon Dawson / Bloomberg

Change in Saudi Arabia is coming...with buy in from across society

Change is never easy. On an individual level, it takes diligence and hard work to change a habit. Numerous self-help books have been written on the process. It’s an ever-growing business that will not grow old.

But what if a country wants to change? Moreover, what if the people in that country are hesitant to change?

This is the reality of Saudi Arabia today. For a few years now, talking about change has shown that, it is not Saudi, but the citizens of the country who are wary, sceptical or resistant to change.

Many outsiders and political analysts argue that the Saudi government is the one standing in the face of change demanded by its citizens. They assume that the population is predominantly liberal and is caught up in a conservative setting. They believe that a top down approach to change is the only way forward.

Insiders know otherwise.

As a Saudi woman, I’m usually impatient for change to happen. However, when examining the situation in the country from an objective perspective, I realise that it is not as easy as it seems. Whether we like it or not, the majority of the country seem to be hesitant or opposing to change, especially change relating to the situation of women in the country.

It is difficult and almost impossible to provide statistical numbers of how the Saudi population is divided among itself. First, many do not like to label themselves as conservatives or liberals. Second, some Saudis who do not shy away from labelling themselves as liberals might forget that the core principle of liberalism is individuality. Such concepts stand contrary to values held dear by a society that emphasises family and tribe over individualism and liberty.

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Add to that, there is a large part of the Saudi population that is not under the gaze of cultural and political commentators. This group does not see itself as liberal or conservative; it is uncomfortable with liberal demands, but also views some conservative values as outdated. They are more content, however, with maintaining the cultural status quo in the country, believing that change might bring immorality and chaos.

It is no wonder that decision makers in Saudi Arabia are aware of these various factions within the society. Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman talked to the Washington Post in April this year about change in the country. The prince told the newspaper that he is concerned about people's readiness for change. He said, "The most concerning thing is if the Saudi people are not convinced. If the Saudi people are convinced, the sky is the limit."

Perhaps the young prince is testing the population's willingness by proposing the Red Sea project, an ambitious plan to transform Saudi Arabia's coastline into luxury sea resorts.  The project has already created heated debate on Saudi Arabia's preferred discussion platform, Twitter.

The Red Sea project generated three main responses. Some were positive and optimistic, arguing that the project will benefit Saudi Arabia’s social and economic life.

The other two responses were critical. One argued that the project will allow women to wear swimwear, especially since the resort will be in a “semi-autonomous” area that would lift the conservative norms followed in the rest of the country. They worry that such relaxed laws will, inevitably, find their way into the Saudi society. These are the conservatives who are still disappointed that the government has curbed the power of the religious police last year.

The other group is critical that such lenient and relaxed approach is always granted to foreigners, not to the wider Saudi population. They argue the residential compound for the Saudi Arabian Oil Company in the Eastern Province has allowed foreigners to live normally, and for women to drive cars with no restrictions. This group believes that change should be implemented throughout the country, and it should specifically target the situation of women as a cornerstone of achieving the country’s vision of 2030.

Luckily, the construction of the first phase of the project will not start until 2019, ample time to introduce the reality of change for those hesitant. The government constantly unveils new projects and tests the population by, subtly, changing the cultural dogma. The majority of the youth in Saudi will, perhaps, help change the equation. However, the voices of the conservatives, and their influence over the majority of the population that is wary of change, will be the dominant factor in the push for change.

Eman Alhussein is a researcher on Middle East affairs

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Company Profile

Company name: Hoopla
Date started: March 2023
Founder: Jacqueline Perrottet
Based: Dubai
Number of staff: 10
Investment stage: Pre-seed
Investment required: $500,000



Rating: 4/5

Produced by: Poetic License Motion Pictures; RSVP Movies

Director: Ritesh Batra

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Company name: Klipit

Started: 2022

Founders: Venkat Reddy, Mohammed Al Bulooki, Bilal Merchant, Asif Ahmed, Ovais Merchant

Based: Dubai, UAE

Industry: Digital receipts, finance, blockchain

Funding: $4 million

Investors: Privately/self-funded

Diriyah project at a glance

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Started: 2023
Founders: Abdulaziz bin Redha, Dr Samsurin Welch, Eva Morales and Dr Harjit Singh
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Industry: Sustainability & Environment
Funding: $200,000 plus undisclosed grant
Investors: Venture capital and government

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Number of staff: 30
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Sustainable Development Goals

1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere

2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all

5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls

6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all

7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all

9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and foster innovation

10. Reduce inequality within and among countries

11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable

12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its effects

14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss

16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels

17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalise the global partnership for sustainable development


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Rating: 4/5

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Price, base / as tested: Dh78,000 / Dh97,650

Engine: 2.5-litre in-line four-cylinder

Power: 182hp @ 6,000rpm

Torque: 244Nm @ 4,000rpm

Transmission: Continuously variable tranmission

Fuel consumption, combined: 7.6L / 100km

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Company name: Fasset
Started: 2019
Founders: Mohammad Raafi Hossain, Daniel Ahmed
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Sector: FinTech
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If you go

The Flights

Emirates and Etihad fly direct to Johannesburg from Dubai and Abu Dhabi respectively. Economy return tickets cost from Dh2,650, including taxes.

The trip

Worldwide Motorhoming Holidays (worldwidemotorhomingholidays.co.uk) operates fly-drive motorhome holidays in eight destinations, including South Africa. Its 14-day Kruger and the Battlefields itinerary starts from Dh17,500, including campgrounds, excursions, unit hire and flights. Bobo Campers has a range of RVs for hire, including the 4-berth Discoverer 4 from Dh600 per day.