Tonight on Foreign Correspondent reporter Sam Hawley presents “Tourist Mecca” as Saudi Arabia opens to tourism, but questions remain on modern reforms.
The ‘hidden kingdom’ of Saudi Arabia has been mostly closed to journalists and travellers…until now.
In a glitzy PR push, the country is opening itself up to the world – and Foreign Correspondent rides the magic carpet to extraordinary sites, tens of thousands of years old, holding mysteries archaeologists are just beginning to uncover.
It’s part of a multi-billion dollar campaign by leader Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, to modernise the economy, diversify it away from oil dependency, and liberalise the austere, puritanical form of Islam that’s locked up the country for decades.
But will the notoriously repressive regime deliver on its promise to reform?
Reporter Sam Hawley witnesses the social revolution underway, speaking with a woman uber driver, a woman scuba instructor and one of the nation’s first stand-up comedian.
“It was like [being] alive”, says a young female uber driver, who’s taking advantage of her newly won freedom to drive.
The comedian explains he must operate within unwritten laws.
“We can’t go to the red lines… even if one day the government says it’s okay to talk about this and that. Okay, go talk about sex, religion, whatever…If you speak about it, people won’t feel comfortable.”
But there’s a dark side to the reform rhetoric. The gruesome murder of journalist Jamal Kashoggi exposed the brutal face of the Saudi regime and still stains the country’s international reputation.
Sam Hawley charts the broad clampdown on dissent and speaks with the country’s critics, including a Saudi prince who lives outside the country under police protection and claims he is the victim of a state-sponsored kidnap attempt.
“There are no political reforms”, says the prince, now living overseas. “There is no separation of powers and there is a dominance by the religious authorities over other branches of power in the state.”
One professional Saudi woman tells us she’s optimistic about future reform.
“I promise you in your next visit you will see more changes. It’s coming, but…when you slow in these changes, they will be genuine instead of being lost.”
8pm tonight on ABC.