Middle East correspondent
Cristiano Ronaldo, Alicia Keys, Will Smith and Afrojack. In Saudi Arabia, international stars come and go. Formula 1 has just come to an end, a film festival is coming up and they are aiming for the 2030 World Cup.
The country is rapidly opening up to foreign investors and events. After decades of restrictions, this is a relief for many, but for critics, according to human rights organizations, it is increasingly dangerous to speak out. As long as you join the masses you can be enthusiastic about all the reforms, as long as you don’t talk critically about politics.
A first-time visitor may not even realize it; Saudi women who work in the service or in the reception of a hotel. All of this was unthinkable a few years ago. Until recently, Saudi women were virtually invisible in public life. Now women can walk the streets without a veil and without an abaya without any problem.
turn the rudder
Saudi Arabia has always been one of the most conservative countries in the world. Men and women lived in separate worlds, concerts and movies were banned, and there was almost nothing to do.
Seventy percent of the Saudi population is under thirty, and all of these young people have access to the Internet and social media. After years in which the religious police reprimanded anyone who did not comply with the strict rules, things have changed. The biggest names in the sports and entertainment industry are lured with big bucks. They don’t seem to be concerned for a moment about the state of human rights in the country.
The correspondent Daisy Mohr was in Jeddah and went to one of those festivals, MDLBEAST. 40,000 young Saudis go wild at a performance by Charlie Puth, one Saudi Arabia DJ and Afrojack.
“If you had asked me five or six years ago if all this would be possible, I would have said a resounding ‘no,'” said Faisal Abbas, editor-in-chief of the Saudi Arabian News newspaper. Journalists from his team write a lot about the Kingdom’s ‘vision 2030’, the master plan that should modernize the country and diversify the economy so that it no longer depends solely on oil revenues in the future.
There are daily articles in Arab News about the new developments. Saudi singers and dancers suddenly allowed to perform for a mixed audience, international conferences, developing megacities, and economic initiatives. “This has to be the most remarkable change this region has seen in decades. Half of society was paralyzed here. Women were not allowed to work and were treated like second-class citizens. I’m not saying everything that What’s happening here is ideal or that we’ve already achieved all our goals, but it’s remarkable.”
Where are the critical voices?
Critical voices can no longer be found in Saudi Arabia and, according to Amnesty International, this is due to increased repression. “Over the past year, the repression has really intensified,” says Dana Ahmed of Amnesty International in Beirut. “People are subjected to ridiculous charges. It could be because of a tweet or something else on social media. Sometimes it’s because someone has spoken to an international organization or a diplomat. Anything that the authorities might consider a threat can be considered a threat.” threat”. . “You see crime. Often it’s not clear what exactly it is because the red lines are blurred.”
What is clear, says Ahmed, is that criticizing the crown prince and the royal family is punishable. “There are very long prison sentences.”
In today’s Saudi Arabia, according to Ahmed, being an activist is simply not an option. “Currently they are all in jail and if they are not in jail they have been silenced in some other way. As soon as they open their mouths they risk being arrested. Prominent activists are detained and are used as an example to others. Since everyone is discouraged from speaking up, I believe that the authorities’ strategy is to make changes come from above, it is not something that the people can demand, that is what the government gives to the people, and you speak against it , then the price you pay is very high.”