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Will the recent reforms modernize Saudi Arabia ?

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Long known for its ultra-conservative moves, Saudi Arabia has embarked on a series of reforms under the crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman. It includes, allowing women to drive cars, start a business without the support of male companion and even allow women into sports stadiums from next year. Not just for women, Saudi Arabia has also lifted decades-long ban on cinemas, music, sports etc. The Saudi Arabia under the crown prince Salman had also promised to focus on eradicating extremism within his kingdom and a return to “moderate Islam".

Why it is done ?

There are many reasons for such a landmark move. Let’s divide the reason into three categories, social, technological and economic. In terms of social values, many sociologists feel that traditional laws have pushed the Saudi Arabia’s younger generation isolated from the world. For example, in the year 2015, the average age of Saudi Arabia's population was 29.8 years, which in other words says that almost half of the country’s population has no idea of what it means to watch a film on the big screen. Technologically, Saudi Arabia is far behind the western countries and developing nations in Africa and Asia. Even the countries like Indonesia and Pakistan which have a huge Muslim population have leaped forward when it comes to technology. In order to close the gap, Saudi Arabia is modernising as most of the Government works and services are already online. So it wants its people to be technologically fit. In terms of economics, Saudi Arabia has started to feel that its days of high oil prices are fading and its water becomes increasingly expensive. This has led to unrest among the citizens who want to maintain their previously unrealistic, subsidized lifestyle, important things will get harder. It wants to seek other revenues for the country, so in order to develop new business; it needs its people to be educated, business oriented and modern.

Opposing forces

Though, many countries including US, China, Russia have welcomed the move. Traditionalists have condemned the big change. They claim that the Saudi Arabia is replacing mosques with movie theatres, substituted books that belonged to the imams with the absurdities of the atheists and secularists from the east and the west. They argue that modernization has opened the door wide for corruption and moral degradation. Some claims that cinemas would provide an open space where men and women could meet unsupervised and as a result, this could lead to immoral actions outside of marriage. Under the Sharia Law that governs Saudi Arabia, any act that might lead a person astray from Islamic faith was considered 'haram'.

What about Indian Muslims ?

Despite the fact that many young Indian Muslim women wear jeans, take up a career without male support and go to the movies along with their male friends, their numbers are limited. Since, independence the gap between Muslim and other socio-religious communities is quite widened largely. Over the decades, it has never changed. In case of Muslim women in rural area the overall progress very low. Attaining a graduate degree is rare which indicates that the females in rural areas are more deprived from higher education. Muslim female are educationally more backward as compared to males. This rate is equal to schedule caste and schedule tribes. This gap is wide between Muslim men and women as compared to other social-religious communities. Therefore, Muslim women are far behind as compared to Muslim men. But this ratio in quite less in urban areas, the percentage of Muslim girls is somewhat equal to Muslim boys in all educational courses.

How will be outcome ?

The outcome is difficult to predict, since it is a socio-economic issue. The modernization move wasn’t immediate decision, it was long due. For many years, a large number of Saudi youths were sent abroad in the West, mostly the United States and European countries for higher education. They were exposed to western culture and freedom, while they return back to Saudi Arabia, they brought ‘western ideas’ and ‘newly acquired skills’ with themselves. But they were unable to implement due to the traditional and religious obstacles. So there was huge pressure from the western educated youth in the country. Besides, many elite communities, feel that social media and the internet has also played a great role in modernizing Saudi Arabia and its population, especially the youth. The Saudi Royal Family, which was already more liberal than its people has decided to implement the bold changes. But the biggest challenge for Saudi Arabia during its course of modernization is about their traditional Islamic values and how they stick to it. But despite these moves, more is needed to be done. Saudi Arabia is still falling behind other developing nations who are modernizing many areas. There are serious weaknesses in education, infrastructure, social development, science and technology, medicine, defence, political process, financial and legal network, etc in the country.

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