As a woman who grew up in Saudi Arabia, I wish people would stop being so cynical about Mohammad bin Salman’s reforms

These improvements are untested but what the Crown Prince is succeeding in doing is sending a definite and firm message to his public and the world at large

The country’s women have supported their football team abroad but haven’t been allowed to attend matches at home until now
The country’s women have supported their football team abroad but haven’t been allowed to attend matches at home until now

Saudi Arabia is debunking age-old stereotypes one theatrical move at a time.

The significance of this remark will not be lost on those following the reforms taking place at large, primarily in Saudi but also in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region as a whole.

In December, Saudi Arabia’s ministry of culture and information announced that cinemas would reopen in the country following a 35-year ban. Cinemas were, for the longest time, viewed as culturally inappropriate locations for social encounters. At Saudi’s first Comic Con last year all genders were allowed to mingle in a single public space. Similarly, women will be allowed into sports stadiums in the country for the first time. In June of this year, women will even be able to drive themselves to and from a day watching movies, sport or meeting fellow fans at a comic conference.

These changes have mainly been as a result of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s determination to propel Saudi Arabia into modernity. The successor to the throne – after reigning King Salman – is showing no signs of slowing down in his reformation plan.

As someone who grew up in Jeddah before any signs of reform, I experienced many stressful situations occurring as a result of strict laws and close-minded societal principles. For a country like Saudi Arabia, with its societal values lagging behind those of the rest of the world, a little change goes a long way. These reforms have yet to be put to the test, but what the Crown Prince is succeeding in doing is sending a definite and firm message to his public and the world at large. He is cultivating a generation of young people who are consciously open to experiencing and practising new ideas.

These changes are attracting a degree of scepticism, following decades of social stagnation. However, it is arguable that the MENA as a whole is strapping in and driving straight and fast into a brighter and more modernised future. Egypt’s once important cinema industry is experiencing a renaissance, and in the United Arab Emirates, a new Middle Eastern fashion industry is booming.

Whether it is Jeddah, Cairo or Dubai reform is never a bad thing and instigating change undoubtedly creates debate, but also allows for the cultivation of hope and optimism.

In the case of Saudi Arabia, lasting change will take time to appear indeed, but it has to begin somewhere.

Nour Hassan is the founder of Radical, an online magazine based in Cairo, Egypt

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