Glam black street fashion
The goons were up high in the stands above the football arena in Riyadh – they had actually stripped off part of their clothing and were waving it hugely in the air above their heads.
The lot of Saudi females were having the time of their lives – their headscarves changed into rippling black flags.
The masterpiece video game between Brazil and Argentina was the very first football match I had been to in Saudi Arabia for more than 20 years – back when the stadium was a symphony of Saudi males’s red and white keffiyehs and startlingly white thobes, unbroken by the black of a single lady’s abaya.
The Riyadh of those days was an inward-looking, unwelcoming place, hardly brightened by the blazing lights of shopping center.
You held your breath as you entered the city as if diving into a stagnant swimming pool – expatriates remained undersea for many years, occasionally breaking to the surface area with alcohol, holidays and affairs.
Every outing to the stores was disrupted by a hurried rush as the prayers started and the shutters boiled down – the store workers fearful of the spiritual authorities who patrolled non-stop, assembling anyone who broke the guidelines.
For young Saudis, their worlds were circumscribed by the high walls built around their homes, which expanded every year on land reclaimed from the large vacuum surrounding the city. They moved from one private area to another, visiting the equally enclosed houses of household and good friends.
That Riyadh is gone.
The opening of public area has actually transformed the city – as has the banishing of the religious cops from daily life.
A young half-Saudi woman – who has made her name as an influencer and a fashion designer – told me how forbidding Riyadh had actually as soon as appeared to her.
Now, the pace of change indicated she sometimes felt more conservative when she returned than her buddies residing in the nation all the time.
She said that women getting the right to drive last year was the crucial moment – although she herself was yet to get a licence. Her Saudi ladies pals, she included, now owned their own area, putting them on an equal footing to men.
I did not bring up the four jailed Saudi females activists and 7 others out on bail who battled for this right for many years and are on trial for hurting Saudi Arabia’s security – all knocked as traitors in the regional media.
Their treatment is a scar that runs right through the material of the make over Saudi Arabia – however it does not imply that there has not been genuine change.
This is the paradox – some of what is occurring can be dismissed as bread and circuses.
Two months of home entertainment are currently being offered all over Riyadh – with al fresco cinemas, theatres and pop shows.
While I was there, an American rap artist waved a bra a member of the audience threw at him and the video of the incident went viral.
There is a Winter Wonderland, with whatever but Dad Christmas.
An area called Riyadh Boulevard, on the outskirts of the city, brings in countless people every night.
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Huge cut-outs of well-known Arab vocalists line the route towards the primary street, where young veiled Saudi ladies stop passers-by to attempt fragrances, a lady in a niqab plays piano, and a guitar player strums next to a huddle of food trucks.
There are lots of restaurants where males and females join no constraints – and from where they can see a light program on a synthetic lake every hour.
No greater than four or 5 years ago, every aspect of this scene would have been denounced by Saudi clerics, whose power was still powerful if starting to deteriorate.
Now, much of those clerics remain in prison, after failing to get behind the sweeping changes wrought by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Numerous Saudi males packed one of the most significant mosques in Riyadh while I was there to grieve among those preachers – whose death a Saudi human rights group has blamed on his mistreatment in prison, although this has not been confirmed.
A few days earlier, the festival atmosphere in Riyadh was shaken by a stabbing at a show in which a number of foreign entertainers were injured.
Aides and advisors to Prince Mohammed say this is why the world should get behind him – as the forces of reaction might still stage a comeback.
A year ago, I was in Riyadh to cover the murder of the reporter Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi representatives at the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul – a Saudi editor concurred that it was the rarest of stories in which every savage, amazing information ended up being true.
Now, the killing casts a less frustrating shadow as foreign dignitaries are less shy about being seen in Saudi Arabia once again.
But its scary still specifies this brand-new Saudi Arabia to much of the world, even as a host of young Saudis proclaimed to me – with utter conviction – their pride in a newfound sense of nationwide identity.
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