Monday, November 11, 2019
The first part of this year rather rushed by. A. was focussing on his GCSE's so the school breaks were mainly spent in the UAE and E went to see her parants to check up on her Mother after her fall. I spent more time than usual travelling around the region in addition to my Korea trips. Indeed as well as going to Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, for the first time since arriving in the Middle East I have visited Saudia Arabia. KSA is an interesting place although perhaps less different to other parts of the ME than it used to be a few years ago before the current relaxation of the strict societal precepts - most clearly seen with the changes in the dress and driving rules for women - one of my colleagues who used to live there said that he could remember when women were not permitted to serve in shops (even shops selling Ladieswear which must have made things a bit awkward) or to drive and standards of dress and public behaviour were rigously enforced by the specially designated officers who patrolled all public areas. Certainly when I have visited this year women seem to be playing a much more prominent part in public life e.g. at the immigration/customs checks at the airport, in serving in the shops, driving and other public areas/activities which in the West (and indeed in Dubai)we would regard as commonplace but which old Saudi hands regard as completely un-heard of e even a very short time ago. It makes huge sense economically as the consumer base has been massively increased almost overnight. Nevertheless, some if the old practices remain - it is still a little disconcerting as a single male to be led to segregated areas in restaurants although even this is apparently becoming less common. Otherwise KSA (at least the parts of Riyadh that I have seen) is rather like Dubai in that there is huge amount of building work and general development going on - cranes, heavy equipment and teams of labourers everywhere - so it will be interesting to see whether this economic direction of travel is maintained and where it will end up.