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Saudi Arabia: A Year in Review, from Key Reforms to Major Milestones

This month marks just over two years since the ascension of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to his role, a transformative period that has been noticeable for its key reforms, economic growth, and overall societal change aimed at pushing the Kingdom towards a more sustainable and inclusive future. As September 23, approaches, which is the country’s 89th National Day, here are key highlights of Saudi Arabia’s major developments and achievements in 2019.

Saudi Women Continue To Lead the Way

Princess Reema

Although there are still three months left before 2019 ends, Saudi Arabia has witnessed a significant rise in female leaders across sectors. On February 23, 2019, Princess Reema Bint Bandar became the first Saudi Arabian woman to be appointed Ambassador to the United States, a major milestone for the Kingdom and its women. Later in the year, Princess Jamila Bint Abdul Majeed Bin Saud Bin Abdulaziz became the first woman in Saudi Arabia to compete in camel racing in the Kingdom, participating in the third edition of King Abdulaziz Camels Festival. The country’s Ministry of Culture announced the appointment of two women to three of its upcoming projects, Dr. Zeinab Al-Khudairi as head of the cultural program and Chef Basma Al-Khuraiji as head of the National Culinary Festival. Saudi Arabia’s first female filmmaker, Haifaa Al-Mansour, saw her film “The Perfect Candidate” selected to compete with 14 other international films for the Golden Lion the 76th edition of the Venice International Film Festival. Yasmeen Al-Maimani became known as Saudi Arabia’s first female pilot for Nesma Airlines, a commercial airline. Ibtisam Al-Shehri became the first woman to be appointed by Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Education as the spokesperson for public education in the Kingdom.

Saudi Arabia Reached Out to the World


As part of the nation’s drive to diversify its economy and open its doors to the world, the Crown Prince spent the earlier part of the year on an “Asia tour,” in a bid to strengthen relations with key nations such as India, Pakistan, China, and South Korea, announcing new investments in energy and infrastructure and securing a number of trade deals. Saudi Arabia also participated in a number of international conferences, as a way to share best practices with other nations and discuss solutions together. For instance, this month saw the Kingdom participating for the first time in the fourth edition of the World Heritage Marine Managers Conference, organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), at the Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska in the United States. Saudi Arabia also took the opportunity at the 28th session of the Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, which was held this year at the United Nations’ (UN) offices in Vienna, Austria, to announce that it would begin studying new laws to criminalize racial discrimination, and religious hatred and intolerance, as well as prohibit the formation of organizations that practice racial discrimination.

This year also saw the Kingdom sign a strategic pan-Arab agreement with 10 countries in the region to make a regional space agency a reality. Saudi Arabia reached new heights in other ways as well, as its Arabsat-6A communication satellite was successfully launched into orbit, a feat made possible by SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket, described by CNN as “by far the most powerful operational launch vehicle in the world.” Finally, the Kingdom also spent the year focusing on building key collaborations with various institutions in order to develop key innovations at home, such as the partnership between Saudi Aramco and Air Products, which resulted in the country’s first-ever hydrogen fuel cell vehicle filling station.

Women’s Rights Improve Due to Additional Reforms

In 2019, Saudi Arabia continued in the tradition of the last two years, announcing major reforms designed to improve the rights and mobility of women across the country. Saudi Arabian women over the age of 21 were granted the right to apply for a passport and travel outside the Kingdom without requiring the approval of a male guardian, the entire procedure reportedly now taking a remarkable 15 minutes only. Saudi Arabia also gave women the right to register births, marriage, or divorce.

The Kingdom’s Ministry of Labor and Social Development launched a new initiative called the Unified Regulation of Women’s Work Environment Initiative, aimed at creating a safe and attractive working environment for women, while also facilitating private sector businesses bid to attract female workers. The initiative aims at addressing pertinent issues such as: avoiding any action that puts pressure on women’s freedom in a way that does not conform to labor and local laws; working on zero tolerance for gender discrimination with regards to wages for work of equal value; and stressing that the creation of an appropriate working environment for women is the direct responsibility of the employer. In addition, the landmark anti-harassment law that was drafted in 2018 was finally put to the test this year as two offenders were arrested, highlighting the Kingdom’s unwavering focus on creating a safe and inclusive environment for women.

Increased Focus on Arts, Culture, And Entertainment

Mariah Carey in KSA Concert

Over the past several months, Saudi Arabia has been creating even more fantastical festivals and events as part of its drive to advance its entertainment and tourism sectors. This year saw performances by big, international acts take over the Kingdom, from the likes of Mariah Carey, Enrique Iglesias, the Black Eyed Peas, Sean Paul, David Guetta and Tiesto, a major change seen as part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 objectives, many which attempt to open the Kingdom to more entertainment, culture, and art options from within the country and beyond.

In June of this year, Saudi Arabia also announced that it had created Saudi Seasons, 11 series of events and programs aimed at transforming the Kingdom into one of the most important tourist destinations in the world. One of its seasons, the 41-day-long Jeddah Season, then announced its first calendar, a staggering 150-plus events and activities, bringing to the Red Sea port city a calendar of entertainment, sport, culture, and art activities suitable for all. This year also saw the presence of Madame Tussauds waxworks museum, celebrated musical productions like “The Phantom of the Opera” and “The Lion King,” popular Japanese game show “Takeshi’s Castle,” and the Emmy-award-winning show “The Voice.” On-ground, changes also took root, as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the General Entertainment Authority (GEA) Turki Al-Sheikh and Minister of Commerce and Investment Majed Al-Qasabi signed an agreement to facilitate the issuing of licenses for entertainment purposes, allowing cafes and restaurants to be issued permits to host live musical performances and stand-up comedy events.

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