LONDON: The Saudi Ambassador to Britain praised the sweeping modernization efforts led by the Kingdom’s rulers.
“Over the past five years, the pace has been tremendous – 1,000 laws have been changed or removed,” Prince Khalid bin Bandar bin Sultan told The Times.
“There is a misconception about Saudi Arabia that we never change, but 100 years ago it was dramatic. My grandfather went to work on horseback, my father flew fast fighter jets, and my cousin went to space.
Prince Khalid said the way the Kingdom legislates for women is also changing. “Right before I was posted here (UK) I went back for two days and called one of my sisters and said, ‘Let’s go have some coffee. Should I pick you up? and she said, ‘No, I have my car.’ It brought me a real smile, ”he said.
“Ten years ago, it would have been unthinkable for her to have a job, let alone drive. We are still a very conservative society but we have a very young population. They want a different world.
The ambassador, who attended the prestigious Eton College before the University of Oxford and Sandhurst, said: “I feel very Saudi, but I was raised in the West.”
His ties to Britain are strong, not only through his studies in the UK, but also through his English wife Lucy Cuthbert, a niece of the Duke of Northumberland.
Prince Khalid has seen some of the modernization he has witnessed in Britain appear in his homeland, including cell phones, which he says have made a huge difference to Saudi society.
“We have one of the highest percentages of phones per capita in the world, almost three phones per person,” he added.
“Young people are everywhere on Instagram. In my generation, there wasn’t a lot of entertainment at home, so we had to go abroad. Now young people want to go to stores and cinemas, and there has been an explosion of events, ”he said.
“There are sections reserved for women but no forced separation. I grew up with the religious police telling us what to do, but now it’s about letting people make their own choices.
He told The Times his sister said she “found out there was no glass ceiling – it was more of a soft tent and she could push it”.
The ambassador said 34% of Saudi Arabia’s workforce is made up of women, up from 18% in 2016.
“We had our first graduation ceremony for women in the army, there are women in government, in the police, we are training women judges, we have a law on equal opportunities and wages”, he added.
Prince Khalid also detailed the rapid expansion of the Saudi tourism industry, including the giga-projects being planned.
“In 2019, we launched our online tourist visa. We issued 440,000 visas before the start of the pandemic, 60,000 in the UK, ”he said.
“We are developing resorts with a Red Sea project and NEOM, a new futuristic city. Saudi Arabia is the size of Western Europe. We also have 330 heritage sites. These giga-projects are part of the $ 7 trillion investment under the Vision 2030 reform plan.
The Kingdom is expected to participate in the United Nations climate change conference, also known as Cop26, in Glasgow later this month.
“We decided to move away from fossil fuels in 2016. We don’t want to be an oil supplier but an energy supplier,” Prince Khalid said. “We are committed to producing 50% of our energy from renewable sources by 2030.”