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Shifting sands: How Saudi is transforming before the world’s eyes

Saudi is lifting a veil of secrecy under which the country’s natural treasures hid.

The kingdom is a young country with nearly 70% of its population under 30.

A new future for them is being painted on white canvas.

From natural to human resources, from the farthest points in the Arabian desert, calls for change come beckoning.

As change gains momentum, it starts to create its own wind, spreading like wildfire; an unstoppable burst of energy catching everyone by storm.

The new look kingdom is proud and defiant, emboldened by a unifying image: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s 2030 Vision.

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The journey starts here

There is a lot riding on the success of Vision 2030, built on three core elements aimed at diversifying the economy away from oil, giving more power to private enterprise and creating employment opportunities for young Saudis and women.

An oil economy is unsustainable with mutli-billion budget deficits draining the country’s foreign reserves from great wealth.

Employing half the adult male population in the public sector or forcing private sector companies to hire through nitaqat (Saudization) have all proven their inefficiencies, with official unemployment reaching 12.8%.

According to Karen Elliott House, a retired “Wall Street Journal” editor and publisher who won a Pulitzer Prize for her coverage of the Middle East, the Crown Prince isn’t just making changes in the economy, he’s attempting, “to transform the psyche of Saudis.”

He tells Fox News: The new solution is to encourage Saudis, especially the young, to take responsibility for their own lives and livelihoods.

“I have seen Saudi women working in a restaurant on my visit ,” House  said. “And many young Saudis now have bought and run food trucks they take around to sell and serve their fellow Saudis at the new entertainment events. Seeing Saudis do something like this would have been unheard of two years ago.”

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Change: A page at a time

According to UK’s The Independent daily, Saudi Arabians are ready to embrace social change.

In Saudi Arabia, critics say the current rate of change is swift but cosmetic, according to the Independent.

“From June women will be allowed to drive for the first time since 1990,” it said.

“But women must still seek the permission of a male guardian to travel, study and open a bank account.”

The kingdom is phasing out fuel subsidies and introducing 5% VAT at a time when Saudi haven’t had a time to adapt or adjust to reforms, and the word on the Twitter, Saudis’ favourite social network, is one of complaints.

A cost to pay, yes, but freedoms are clearly more visible.

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Star roles: Return of the Jeddah

In its documentary, the Independent observes groups of women use public spaces without male chaperones in Jeddah, often working in mixed gender environments and wearing glittery abayas in shades of grey and blue as well as black.

“Some women do not wear headscarves at all. Couples hold hands in public,” the daily said.

“Last month American R&B singer Nelly played a sold-out concert here. Although in the end women were not allowed to attend, the fact an artist whose most famous lyrics are “It’s getting hot in here..” was even allowed to enter the kingdom shows a transformation is taking place.”

Perhaps, one of the biggest transformation in Saudi is the approach towards the softer sex.

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A taste of freedom

After work, if women get bored, they can go to the movies or go watch a soccer game live though.

If they are more ambitious, they can look up a series of new job openings, like the one at the Airport.

The Saudi General Directorate of Passports posted 140 job listings for women  at airports and border crossings and received 107,000 applications in just one week, CNN Money reports.

NBC reported that the first spokeswoman for the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia Fatimah Baeshen says the kingdom’s plan for growing its economy includes more women in the workforce.

“One of the barriers for women entering the work force was transportation,” Baeshen said. “But now that women can obtain drivers licenses, it will also help achieve this aim of achieving women’s participation in the work force.”

According to her, “The kingdom is not easternizing or westernizing, it’s modernizing without compromising our set of values and our cultural integrity.”

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Sightseeing heaven

Traveller online said that starting end of March 2018 “all nationals whose countries allow their citizens to visit will be eligible for electronic visas”, quoting Saudi officials.

Their hope is to double the annual number of visitors to 30 million by 2030 and to raise $54bn by 2020.

“Work is nearly complete on an 85-station (Riyadh) metro line, the country’s first ever public transport network. Multiplex cinemas are returning to the kingdom after a 30-year ban, and a 500 km2 “entertainment city” will feature a safari and theme park when it opens in 2021,” said Traveller.

“Because Saudi has been behind closed doors for so long, people have become incredibly curious,” Jarrod Kyte, of the UK-based travel agency Steppes.

“We’ll have no shortage of people wanting to go.”

Traveller said package tours will include Mada’in Saleh, home to the best preserved Nabataean tombs, Al-‘Ula, a 2000-year-old ghost town made of stone and mud, and Sakaka, listed by Unesco for its ancient standing stones.

Single foreign females over the age of 25 will be allowed to travel to the kingdom without a male guardian.

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Ritz glitz

Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton reopens on Sunday, February 11, said hotel officials, 3 months and a few days after it housed glamour of a different kind: high level detainees, from princes to government ministers, numbering in total some 350, held on corruption charges.

Some $107bn has been recovered so far as a result of the investigation, around 56 people are still in custody but have been moved, and a further 90 have been released with charges dropped, according to attorney general Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb.

The purge was believed to be a way to send a message to would be challengers of change that the status quo is no longer an option, and that investments have a safe haven in Saudi.