RIYADH - Change is rapidly sweeping Saudi Arabia, with many younger people, especially women, embracing newfound freedoms. Others, however, think social reforms have come too quickly, and fear an erosion of public morals and widely held traditions in the once-ultraconservative kingdom, the bastion of Islam and its holiest sites of Mecca and Medina.
Draped in a black abaya or cloak, a Saudi bank employee named Noura broke into a jaunty song in Arabic about driving a car during her lunch break at Riyadh’s glitzy Kingdom Tower complex. “I’m driving now, where do you want to go,” she sang, laughing joyfully about her new found freedom.
Saudi women have indeed taken to the road as part of plans by the kingdom's ambitious de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to modernize Saudi Arabia, often breaking long-held societal taboos and introducing economic reforms to ween the Gulf energy giant off of its decades-long dependence on oil revenues.
Her banking colleague, Ruba, who additionally wears the niqab or traditional black face veil, is anything but conservative in her views on the recent changes.
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