Complex Made Simple

Shockwaves rumble across Saudi: Kingdom’s trashing traditional taboos

It’s not enough Saudi women can drive, watch football, work anywhere they want, and take up men’s jobs at the highest levels.

Not enough Saudi princes, and ministers get jailed on corruption charges, get released after $106 in cash or assets are pledged, leaving no ivory tower unsettled.

Not enough foreigners can own 100% of their Saudi businesses.

Not enough VOIP is allowed to hurt Saudi Telecom’s (STC) bottom line, or a Hollywood-like film making industry is shaping up in the Kingdom.

Not enough robots get Saudi citizenships, Saudi virgin islands get turned into UAE-like resorts, and $500bn cities can emerge steaming with non-oil energy across the Red Sea.

Now daring Fatwas are coming out left and right that will forever change the Saudi landscape.

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A beating heart

AFP reported that a prominent Saudi cleric on Wednesday endorsed Valentine’s Day, long forbidden in the kingdom, calling it a “positive social event” that was not linked to religion.

Ahmad Qassim Al Ghamdi, former chief of the Makkah religious police, did a 180 degrees reversal of conservative tradition that stood unchallenged for a very long time.

“It is a positive social event and congratulating people for it is not against sharia (law),” Al Ghamdi told Saudi-owned Al Arabiya television.

“It is an act of kindness to share greetings on Western national and social holidays, including Valentine’s Day, exchange red roses with others, as long as it is towards peaceful people who do not share animosity or are being at war with Muslims.”

Al Ghamdi was the second cleric to break new ground with old cultural traditions.

Jeddah resident and Saudi relationship counsellor Dr Lalia Al Helaly, said the suggestion by a senior Saudi cleric that women should be able to choose whether or not to wear an abaya signals that extraordinary change is under way in the kingdom.

She welcomed the remarks made last week by Sheikh Abduallah Al Mutlaq, a member of the country’s Council of Senior Scholars, in which he said that dressing modestly did not necessitate wearing the full body covering as “more than 905 of Muslim women around the world don’t.”

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To your heart’s desire

According to CNN money, Saudi movie fans will soon get their share of comfy seats and big screens as a brand new investor makes his intentions known.

“Vue International said recently it would launch 30 world class cinema multiplexes in Saudi Arabia in partnership with a local entertainment company, over teh next 3 years, with the first venue to open later this year,” reported CNN.

The deal was made with Abdulmohsin Al Hokair Holding Group, a tourism and entertainment company.

“Vue’s American rival AMC said in December it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund to “explore a range of commercial opportunities for collaboration,” added CNN.

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A kind heart

Perhaps more in line with Saudi tradition, the kingdom is lending a hand to ease suffering, but doing it in a big way.

Arab News reported from Kuwait, where a donor conference for Iraq’s reconstruction is taking place, that Saudi allocated $1.5bn for the rebuilding of Iraq’s cities destroyed in last year’s cleansing battle with ISIS, cities like Mosul and Ramadi.

“The pledge from Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir included a $1 billion loan through the Saudi Fund for Development and $500 million in export credit,” said Arab news.

Kuwait said it would provide $1 billion in loans from the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development and $1 billion in direct investments.

The UAE is pitching in with $500 million.