Jeddah, Saudi Arabia According to Saudi Asthma, spending a day at sea with her boyfriend in her extreme conservative country is almost unthinkable. But today, on a beach in the west of the kingdom, this 32-year-old woman is happy to be able to live a “normal” life.
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“I am glad to have come to the beach near Jetta. It was a dream come true, ”she said, still wearing a wet T-shirt and a wet swimsuit.
For four years, the rich oil government, led by Prince Mohammed Ben Salman, has been softening its harsh and ultra-conservative image in the campaign for economic and social reforms.
Women are allowed to drive, cinemas are reopened and co-education is allowed during sports or music events.
But that revelation is accompanied by a relentless lockout against critics of the prince’s power, and many women rights activists have been detained or are at shortcuts to justice.
On the Pure Beach, a mixed beach located a hundred kilometers from Jeddah, a large city in the west of the kingdom famous for being the most open space in the country, you can forget about being in Saudi Arabia.
According to Asma, the opening of the Pure Beach in August is a sign that “life is returning to normal” in this country: “it was not before”.
For a ticket of 300 riyals (approximately C $ 85), women can swim in the turquoise waters of the Red Sea in bikinis. Men and women can smoke shisha in the white sand or walk their pets there. But alcohol consumption is officially banned in Saudi Arabia.
As is often the case in other places such as hotels, it is not necessary to issue a marriage certificate to the couple before the wedding. But, to ensure that everyone’s privacy is respected, devotees are asked to leave their mobile phones at the entrance, explains an official in the new city of King Abdullah Economic City, where Pure Beach is located.
After sunset, the beach becomes an open-air nightclub where dancers dance to the tune of Western music. Near them, a couple kisses.
“I was amazed at this kind of freedom and transparency. It’s like it’s in the United States,” said AFP Mohamed Saleh, an engineer who recently returned to the country after ten years in the United States.
“I never imagined attending a beach party in Saudi Arabia,” he continues.
Saudi Arabia previously had to travel abroad to the Middle East or Europe to enjoy this kind of freedom.
“A few years ago, we were not allowed to listen to music and go to the beach, so it was a paradise for us,” says Hudil Omar, an Egyptian who grew up in Saudi Arabia.
King Abdullah, the event manager at the Economic City, Bilal told the Saudi AFP that the clean beach is not designed exclusively for residents of the kingdom, but seeks to attract tourists.
Saudi Arabia issued its first tourist visas in 2019 and announced that it intends to attract 30 million tourists each year by 2030. Tourism development is one of the pillars of “Vision 2030”, an ambitious reform plan launched by the prince to reduce the dependence of the Saudi economy on oil.
“I have the feeling that I no longer have to go abroad because now everything is available here,” said Tima, a young Saudi businessman, in a swimsuit and T-transparent shirt.
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