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What The Hell Is Happening In Saudi Arabia?

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Saudi Arabia has been in the spotlight for the past few months. Every month it witnesses a new development in governance. Lifting the ban on women driving and anti-corruption drive are few of the positive ones. Simultaneously, it also saw some unfortunate incidents like proxy wars.

Take a look at the major events to understand why is Saudi Arabia making headlines:

1. Mass arrests and anti-corruption drive

11 princes, 4 current ministers, and scores of former ministers and businessmen were arrested on November 4th as part the government-led anti-corruption campaign.  The mass arrest campaign appears to be the latest move to consolidate the power of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The arrests were carried out by a new anti-corruption body headed by the crown prince.

Following the announcement of the arrests on state television, Saudi Arabia’s stock index—the TASI—dropped by more than 2%. The anti-corruption drive also included the arrest of Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the richest men in the world. He controlled and owned major stakes in 21st Century Fox, Citigroup, Apple, Twitter and other well-known companies.  This led to a downfall in the overall stock market.

2. Rise in tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia

On November 4, a ballistic missile was fired against Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh by Yemen based Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. The missile hit the northern outskirts of Riyadh with no reported casualties. Saudi Arabia has claimed that the missile was manufactured in Iran and got smuggled into Yemen. Saudi Arabia has charged this attack as an “act of war” and tightened its blockade on Yemen which might cause a famine in the region.

This incident has raised the tension between the cold war foes. Experts say that this could be the first step towards direct conflict between the Kingdom and Iran.  But however, this is not the first time for the two nation to engulf in such attacks. Previously, Saudi Arabia has launched a number of similar air strikes against Iran. The duo has been fighting for control over Yemen. The Iran–Saudi Arabia proxy conflict (also called the Second Arab Cold War or the New Middle East Cold War) is the ongoing struggle for regional influence between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

3. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s ‘Vision 2030’

Prince Mohammad bin Salman took the leadership in restructuring Saudi Arabia’s economy, which he officially announced in April 2016 when he introduced the Vision 2030. The major econominc reform aims at country’s strategic orientation for the next 15 years. Vision 2030 plans to reform Saudi’s economy towards a more diversified and privatized structure. It details goals and measures in various fields, from developing non-oil revenues and privatization of the economy to e-government and sustainable development.

4. Granting citizenship to a robot

Saudi Arabia has become the first country to give a robot citizenship. The move is an attempt to promote Saudi Arabia as a place to develop artificial intelligence – and, presumably, allow it to become a full citizen. But many pointed out that those same rights aren’t afforded to many humans in the country. The robot, named Sophia, was confirmed as a Saudi citizen during a business event in Riyadh, according to an official Saudi press release.
Sophia the robot was built by the Hong Kong-based company Hanson Robotics in 2015. The inventor David Hanson claims that the robot is imbued with artificial intelligence and can recognize faces.

5. Lifting the prohibition on women driving

On September 26, Saudi monarch Salman bin Abdulaziz signed a royal decree by allowing women in the kingdom to drive motor vehicles. This marked the end of the longstanding and oppressive policy in Saudi Arabia, which was the only nation in the world to impose such a ban. Since the early 1990s, the women activists in the Kingdom have been pushing for the right to drive. Many women have been arrested in the past years for defying the ban. The decision which will be enforced from June 2018, is hailed not only in Saudi Arabia but globally.

6. Allowing women to enter sports stadium

Saudi Arabia is starting to ease restrictions on women spectators in sports stadiums as well. Starting from early 2018, women will be allowed into three areas in major cities, said a statement issued by the General Sports Authority, the country’s governing body for sports.

The previously male-only venues of King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh, King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, and Prince Mohammed Bin Fahd Stadium in Dammam will begin preparations to “accommodate families,”. Specific seating arrangements are unclear at the moment; Saudi men and women are customarily separated in places where they are both allowed. This move mainly aims to open the lifestyle which limits the role of women in Saudi Arabia.

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