Saudi Arabia, a country where women have to follow strict dress codes and can’t travel without a male relative, where the police once arrested a mascot for “showing skin,” where the government has created a separate police force to ensure the implementation of religious morals, may soon allow women to wear bikinis on its beaches.
Money, of course.
In order to make Saudi economy less dependent on oil, the traditionally ultraconservative Saudi royal family has recently made some groundbreaking changes. For instance, in April, the government announced the opening of cinema houses, which have been banned since the 1970s, in an attempt to increase local tourism activities and "improve the investment climate to attract foreign funds and reduce the export of capital."
This month, in order to attract foreign tourism – and capital – Saudi Arabia has announced the construction of a luxury resort on the Red Sea, where women, reportedly, will be allowed to wear bikinis.
The new vacation spot will be “governed by laws on par with international standards.” It will cover 50 islands and is expected to attract tourists from across the world as the Saudi government plans to relax its visa restrictions.
However, rules for women will only be relaxed for foreign tourists visiting that particular resort. Rules for beaches elsewhere will remain as ultra-conservative as they have always been.
So, why is Saudi Arabia willing to overlook its decades-long ultraorthodox religious code of conduct for women – and, perhaps, even men – for a singular tourist spot?
Here’s why: “The project aims to generate SR15 billion ($4 billion) annually to the Saudi economy and create 35,000 jobs,” according to Arab News.
Therefore, it appears as long as it brings foreign money, Saudi Arabia is OK with letting women do what they want. Meanwhile, local Saudi women are still getting arrested for doing just that.