A spring breeze blew through Riyadh’s Tahlia Street, a main thoroughfare in the Saudi capital packed with young Saudis watching soccer in outdoor cafes. The men were transfixed by the match as unveiled women, dressed in casual Western attire with black robes known as abayas loosely hanging off their shoulders, traversed the sidewalks, enjoying a late evening stroll.
Peaceful as it was, the scene was jarring. Having grown up in Saudi Arabia, I have vivid memories of my mother being regularly harassed by the much-feared religious police, the mutawa, who would demand that she cover up much more than the women around me now. But such fixtures of daily life are quickly falling by the wayside.
A rapid process of social and economic transformation is unfolding in a deeply traditional society, where it is inevitably causing some disquiet. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose reputation has suffered for his government’s involvement in the brutal assassination of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is still very popular in his own country. Still, some Saudis are not shying away from expressing their discontent.
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