A year of momentous changes in Saudi Arabia

Groundwork laid for cultural, social and economic changes

January 01, 2019
Ekleel Sallam

Saudi Gazette

Qiddiya entertainment city

Record-breaking build times were achieved at the Qiddiya entertainment, sports and cultural destination recently by constructing the next generation of semi-permanent buildings. The 334km2 project — to be built 40km from capital city, Riyadh — is 100 times the size of Central Park, and will attract 17 million visitors by 2030. Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman patronized the project’s foundation ceremony on April 28, 2018. Qiddiya is one of three major projects that the Public Investment Fund (PIF) is developing under the leadership of its chairman Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, deputy premier and minister of defense.

New Middle East

The Middle East can be the ‘new Europe,’ Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman said at the Future Investment Initiative forum in Riyadh last October, Crown Prince told a packed audience that he would like to see the economic transformation of the region happen within his lifetime. He said his ‘war’ was restoring the Middle East to its past glory. “I believe the new Europe is the Middle East,” Prince Muhammad said. “Saudi Arabia in five years will be completely different.”

2018 SAUDIA Ad Diriyah E-Prix

The 2018 SAUDIA Ad Diriyah E-Prix saw three days of Formula E fun, live music from international artists, entertainment, cultural activities and gripping city street racing come to the Saudi Arabian capital.

Largest-ever budget

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman earlier this month announced a SR1.106 trillion budget, the Kingdom’s largest ever, and said the government will move ahead with economic reforms. The Kingdom estimated 2019 spending to reach SR1.106 trillion, up 7.3 percent from the latest 2018 spending figure of SR1.030 trillion for 2018.

Women can drive

A long-standing ban on women driving was lifted in June. The announcement followed a Royal decree in September 2017. The government has set itself the target of generating 65% of GDP from the private sector, and getting more female into work is key.

Saudi businesswomen expect the lifting of the ban on women driving would create more job opportunities for women as the move will facilitate their employment and will reflect positively on their social life.

Public cinema returns

After a 35-year ban, the government began granting commercial movie theater licenses. International and regional chains are already eying opportunities in the new market of 30 million people. Some 30 to 40 cinemas in approximately 15 cities in Saudi Arabia are expected over the next five years, and 50 to 100 cinemas in about 25 Saudi cities by 2030.

Stadiums open doors to women

Women are now allowed into three stadiums in major cities. The General Sport Authority, the country’s governing body for sports, said in October 2017 that stadiums will begin accommodating families. Saudi men and women are customarily separated in public places, but that restriction is also slowly being relaxed.

Amaala project

Amaala project will sit alongside NEOM and The Red Sea Project as part of the giga-projects investment portfolio, helping to establish a unique tourism ecosystem, supporting economic diversification and creating high-value job opportunities, the new destination is a natural extension of the Mediterranean Sea, and dubbed the Riviera of the Middle East. The initial funding for the project will be provided by PIF, who will spearhead the development of Amaala into a bespoke hospitality experience located within the Prince Mohammed bin Salman Natural Reserve.


SPARK is a 50-square-kilometer energy city megaproject which will position Saudi Arabia as a global energy, industrial and technology hub. The first phase of the development will be completed by 2021. SPARK attracted investments from foreign and local companies to produce and manufacture goods and services in the Kingdom’s energy sector. The investment in the first phase of the project is expected to be around $1.6 billion.

Live music festival and concerts

International stars and the cream of the Arab music world performed for thousands of fans as part of a fan festival to celebrate the first staging of the ‘Saudia’ Ad Diriyah E-Prix.

World Boxing Supreme Series

Jeddah hosted the World Boxing Super Series super-middleweight final on Sept. 28 at Al-Jawhara Stadium (King Abdullah Sports City).

Tourist e-visas

Saudi Arabia opened up its borders to fans of live sport, music and culture for the first time with the launch of a new online visa process dedicated to welcoming international tourists. The new visa process platform known as ‘Sharek’ was announced as part of the country’s Vision 2030 plan, as the Kingdom has ambitious plans to grow its tourism industry.

Riyadh Metro

Undoubtedly one of Saudi’s largest and most high-profile construction schemes, Riyadh Metro made steady progress in 2018. About 75% work has been completed. Test runs began for Riyadh Metro’s Line 4. French transport system provider Alstom revealed it has been conducting initial dynamic tests for the megaproject’s Line 4 Depot Test Track, on which the FAST Consortium is working. CEO of Arriyadh Development Authority Eng. Tariq Al-Faris said that 100% work has been completed for deep tunnels and bridges and 93% for surface routes.

NEOM driving transformation

NEOM was born from the ambition of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 to see the country develop into a pioneering and thriving model of excellence in various and important areas of life. The team behind the NEOM mega-city project in Saudi Arabia said that they have begun environmental, archaeological and geological surveys to ensure successful and sustainable execution of future constructions.

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