Wednesday, January 31, 2024

On Saudi tourism, stereotyping and reality.

Two days ago I spoke about Saudi tourism... Maybe now is the time to speak again... Please check the "Messi/Messy" thing here. OK, so the idea of the ad is to get famous football player Messi as an ambassador to debunk Saudi "stereotypes". Saudi Arabia is not "just a desert". This is correct but I also have seen paved roads with the sand which was excavated thrown on the two sides of the streets. Again, yes, Saudi Arabia is not just a desert, but to get to the other parts requires being out of the classical sedentary areas.

Now, "nothing ever happens"? Sure there are concerts and events lead by Turki Al-Sheikh (according to his wikipedia he is is a Saudi adviser at the Royal Court under the rank of Minister and the current Chairman of General Authority for Entertainment). Major A-list stars have flocked to Saudi Arabia to do concerts, many other stars have been granted Saudi nationality and on it goes. How much of this trickles down to the normal/average Saudi is however open for debate.

Is it a "closed culture"? Ok, this is where it gets tricky. Stadiums have only very recently opened a section for "families" (as everything - restaurants etc, there are places for "singles" (i.e. men) and "families"), and yes women have been granted the right to drive also not long ago. May I however remind you of the case of Loujain Al-Hathloul who was jailed for three years for campaigning for women's rights to drive and who was only released very very shortly before women obtained their right to drive? Again, perhaps a lot happened since the last time I was in the kingdom in 2004 visiting a VIP client, but once more, no - society is not open. Let us not hide behind our fingers.

"Girls can't". OK, there is Sarah Attar who competed in the London 2012 edition, and there were others as well - notably Wajdan Shahrakhani the judo player who participated in the same edition. But get this, there was someone on X (formerly twitter) who described these women as "عاهرات الاولمبياد" (literally the Olympics sluts). Kind reminder - this was only 12 years ago and barely. Now, are you going to tell me a society goes from ultra-conservative to Liberal in this short span of time?

You can watch the film here. I still think though that what was shown in the film are the exceptions that prove the rule.