Jeddah: There is a huge buzz throughout Saudi Arabia as the hitherto conservative Kingdom — seen as the religious font of Islam and home to its holiest shrines, cinema is back in the country after a gap of 35 years and the kingdom now is ready to welcome women into its sports stadiums.
The women of Saudi Arabia have entered 2018 with hope unlike ever before, for now they will be allowed greater freedom and perhaps play select sports — and drive. These efforts to bring gender parity are among a series of sweeping social and economic changes being orchestrated by the young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to bring Saudi Arabia into a global leadership role in the 21st century.
The year 2017 was transformational for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with a series of initiatives designed to improve gender equality, promote economic diversification, root out corruption and make it more open and attractive to visitors.
Behind a vast majority of these path-breaking initiatives was Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the world’s youngest defence minister, who, at 32, was elevated to the position of crown prince June 2017. Initiatives he has taken form part of the “National Transformation Programme 2020” and the Kingdom’s “Vision 2030”, guidelines of which he outlined in 2017.
The most momentous of these have been on gender equality. For the first time, girls in public schools will be allowed to play sports and get physical education. The women of Saudi Arabia will be allowed to enter some of the country’s sports stadiums, earlier an all-male preserve, while a royal decree issued last September will allow women the right to drive in the country, beginning June.
In further social transformations, the municipality of the holy city of Madinah will be run by women. The women-only branch of the municipality will provide all the regular services offered by municipalities, including issuance of licences for commercial activities and construction permits, inspection campaigns and investment opportunities, among others.
These measures gained international recognition and Saudi Arabia was elected in 2017 to the UN Women’s Rights Commission for a four-year term.
Other than the major social impact, shrewd economic thoughts are behind these measures, as increasing women’s participation in the workplace will boost the economy and combat corruption.
The “National Transformation Programme 2020” aims to capitalise on the Kingdom’s youth dividend by opening up the country to more employment opportunities through sports and entertainment and to empower women. Opening the country to more entertainment, allowing musical concerts and even a Comic-Con event (a three-day festival of anime, pop art, video gaming and film-related events in 2017) was part of a wide-ranging push to reform the economy and society and restore what Prince Mohammed bin Salman called the “moderate” face of Islam.
The plan involves changing the education curriculum, increasing women’s participation in the workforce and investing in the entertainment and tourism sectors to create jobs for young people.
Equally far-reaching are efforts to open up the Kingdom to outsiders, by offering tourist visas for foreigners, from this year, and creating facilities to promote the country as a tourist destination. The Red Sea project, which aims to offer an unparalleled tourist destination, will be developed along with leading global hospitality firms and will not be subject to the Kingdom’s conservative rules.
Over 18 million foreigners visited Saudi Arabia in 2017, almost all on pilgrimage to Mecca. As tourism is the country’s second-most important sector, the Red Sea project will spearhead the diversification of the Saudi leisure industry.
Meanwhile, an ongoing nationwide anti-corruption drive culminated last November with the detention of four ministers, high-profile entrepreneurs and 11 princes, including a son of former King Abdullah and multi-billionaire Alwaleed bin Talal.
This not only consolidated the crown prince’s authority, but clearly sent out a message that the royal family was not immune from facing the law, hitherto unthinkable in the Kingdom where the descendants of Ibn Saud were seen as a law unto themselves. That members of the royal family could no longer take their privileges for granted became more apparent when princes, protesting a cut in their water and electricity consumption payments, were taken into custody in the first week of 2018.
“Vision 2030” outlines the crown prince’s intent to make the country the centre of the Islamic and Arab world, a hub connecting three continents and an economic and investment powerhouse.
After taking over as crown prince in June 2017, Mohammed signalled his intent to fight radicalisation and combat terrorism, spearheading a boycott of Qatar over its alleged support to terrorism. In October, the prince said the return of “moderate Islam” was central to his plans to modernise the Kingdom.
With global climate change measures intensifying moves towards less dependence on fossil fuels, the crown prince’s Vision 2030 aims to drastically reduce the Kingdom’s reliance on oil while reforming, diversifying and privatising the economy.
Danish billionaire’s 3 kids among killed
Copenhagen, Apr 22: Denmark’s richest man Anders Holch Povlsen and his wife lost three of their four children in the Easter Sunday attacks in Sri Lanka, a spokesman for Povlsen’s fashion firm said on Monday.
The spokesman declined to give any further details but Danish media said the family had been on holiday in Sri Lanka.
A string of bombings at churches and luxury hotels across Sri Lanka killed 290 people and wounded about 500 in Sunday’s attacks. A senior investigator said on Monday that seven suicide bombers had taken part in the attacks.
Povlsen is the owner of fashion firm Bestseller, which includes brands like Vero Moda and Jack & Jones, and is the majority stakeholder in online retailer Asos while also holding a big stake in Zalando.
He owns more than 1 percent of all the land in Scotland, according to Forbes.
We took bold steps to counter ‘terror’, Congress response timid: Modi
Pimpalgaon (Maharashtra): Targeting the UPA regime on national security issues, Prime Minister Narendra Modi Monday said his government took bold steps to counter ‘terror’, compared to the timid approach adopted by the Congress-led regime.
Modi’s remarks at a poll rally here in Nashik district of Maharashtra came a day after a terror attack in Sri Lanka killed 290 people in a series of eight blasts that tore through churches and luxury hotels in the island country.
The prime minister said that due to the bold approach adopted by his government, ‘terrorism’ has been curbed in India and is confined only to some parts of Jammu and Kashmir.
Under attack from the Congress for not letting the Rafale contract go to the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Modi accused the opposition party of destroying the state-run enterprise.
The HAL has a unit in Nashik.
The prime minister said his government has increased defence production under the ‘Make in India’ programme.
Campaigning for BJP-Shiv Sena alliance candidates from Nashik, Dindori and Dhule Lok Sabha constituencies, Modi said the Lanka blasts took place on Easter when people were sharing the message of peace.
“What was the condition in India before 2014? Bomb explosions would take place in corners of the country every now and then in Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Kashi (Varanasi), Ayodhya, Jammu,” Modi said.
“What did the then Congress-NCP government do? Held condolence meeting, expressed grief. They went about crying in the world, saying Pakistan did this and that in our country,” he said.
“But what did your chowkidar do? Your chowkidar changed this timid approach of the Congress-NCP government,” Modi said.
In an apparent reference to the 2016 surgical strike and Balakot air strike carried out in February this year, Modi said the security forces barged into the “factory of terror and cleaned everything without any discrimination”.
Modi said every “terrorist” is aware that “Modi would trace him even if he is hiding in the netherworld.”
Without naming any leader from the opposition, Modi said “some” experience electric current the moment I talk about dynasty and national security.
He said the opposition was restless given the response the BJP got in the first two phases of the Lok Sabha polls across the country.
Addressing the rally in a region known for onion production, Modi said his government is trying to increase onion storage capacity and reduce tax on their transportation.
He claimed that the Congress tweaked crop prices to benefit middlemen.
“I have fought a battle against these middlemen,” he added.
“Our government working to end the rule of middlemen,” Modi said.
Speaking at a poll rally at Nandurbar later, Modi said accused the opposition parties of spreading rumours that reservations will modified if he returns to power.
Modi said he will ensure that the quota quantum is not disturbed.
“Till Modi is here, nobody can touch reservations, given to us by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar,” he said.
Modi also assured people in the tribal dominated constituencies in north Maharashtra that his government will ensure they would not face eviction from their land.
“As long as Modi is there, reservation for adivasis will not be removed. No one can lay hand on your agricultural land you are cultivating now,” he said.
The adivasis are currently struggling to keep their land with themselves as some provisions of the Forest Rights Act are being challenged.
“In Maharashtra alone, 1.25 crore farmers’ families are benefiting from Pradhan Mantri Krishi Samman Yojana. If voted to power again, we will remove the upper land holding limit of five acre,” Modi said.
“My government is also going to introduce a pension scheme for farmers in coming years,” he said.
North Maharashtra produces sugarcane which can be used for ethanol production, Modi said.
It will create jobs for locals but the Congress-NCP leaders never allowed it to happen, he said.
“These leaders used to get kickbacks for importing fuel.
If fuel imports are reduced due to ethanol blending, they fear of losing their income,” Modi said.
Recalling that it was in Nandurbar that the Aadhar scheme was launched in 2010, Modi said his government ensured its wider impact.
“But and now the Congress has approached the Supreme Court against Aadhar card,” he said.
Funds meant for pregnant women and children were “looted” by Congress leaders in Madhya Pradesh and were seized from residences of some of their leaders, he said.
“They (Congress) are unrelenting in abusing me as I targeted their corruption,” Modi said.
The prime minister also attacked Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy for his alleged remark that those who don’t get a square meal join the army and become jawans. Modi said that according to Kumaraswamy, people who guard our borders are not children of the rich and join the armed forces because they don’t have food to eat.
JK Cong rings Delhi even for minor decisions: Omar
Srinagar, Apr 21: National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah Sunday said Congress leaders from Jammu and Kashmir are not allowed to take decisions on their own.
“When we were in an alliance with Congress, I noticed it myself that even for minor decisions they have to seek permission from party leadership in New Delhi,” Omar told reporters on the sidelines of a party function in South Kashmir.
However, Omar said, NC candidates for Parliamentary Elections if elected will not have to take “dictation” from New Delhi.
“Not only New Delhi but even National Conference top leadership. Our Parliamentarians will just have to represent the voice of people of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said.
Omar said people should come out to vote as boycotting elections will only help the BJP and RSS.
He said it was unfortunate that Election Commision of India was ignoring repeated violations of Model Code of Conduct by Prime Minister Narendara Modi and top BJP leadership.