Saudi Arabia is a country that is known for its rich culture and history, as well as its modern developments and economic prosperity. But while the country has made economic and social progress in recent decades, it’s also important to recognise that every country has its own set of issues and challenges.
I’ve started launching episodes about my visit to Saudi Arabia, and in the first one that came out on Tuesday, it may have sounded like there’s nothing bad about this country. And even though I loved my visit and met some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met, there are still challenges.
In this episode, I will share what I think is both good and bad about this country.
THE GOOD ABOUT SAUDI ARABIA
Let’s dive in and start with some of the things that are good about Saudi Arabia:
GOOD: Culture and history
Saudi Arabia is home to a number of historical and cultural sites that are of great importance to the country and the region. The city of Mecca is the holiest site in Islam and the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad. It is also home to the Kaaba, a sacred stone building that is the focus of the annual hajj pilgrimage. Medina, another city in Saudi Arabia, is also considered a holy city and is the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad. These cities are of great significance to Muslims around the world and are a source of pride for the country.
Saudi Arabia is a major player in the global economy, with a GDP of over $800 billion. The country is rich in natural resources, particularly oil, which accounts for a significant portion of its wealth. The government has also invested heavily in modernising and diversifying the economy, with initiatives aimed at boosting tourism, technology, and other sectors. As a result, Saudi Arabia has a high standard of living and a strong infrastructure.
Education is a priority in Saudi Arabia, with the government investing heavily in the education sector. The country has a number of top-ranked universities, including King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, which are known for their research and innovation. The government also provides free education to all citizens, from primary school through to university.
Saudi Arabia has a well-developed healthcare system, with a number of hospitals and clinics located throughout the country. The government invests heavily in the healthcare sector, providing free medical care to all citizens. The country is also home to a number of renowned medical facilities, such as the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre, which is known for its advanced medical technology and expertise.
Saudi Arabia has a modern infrastructure, with a well-developed transportation system and a number of major cities connected by highways and airports. The country has also invested heavily in its telecommunications infrastructure, with high levels of Internet and mobile phone penetration. These investments have contributed to the country’s economic development and have made it easier for people to live, work, and travel within the country.
GOOD: Natural beauty
Despite its desert climate, Saudi Arabia is home to a number of beautiful natural landscapes. The country has a number of parks and nature reserves, including the Asir National Park, which is home to a number of endangered species. The country’s coastlines, including the Red Sea and the Arabian Gulf, are also popular destinations for tourists and offer a range of activities such as diving, fishing, and water sports.
GOOD: Modern developments
In recent years, Saudi Arabia has undergone a number of modern developments, including the construction of new cities, such as King Abdullah Economic City and NEOM, which are designed to be centers of innovation and economic growth. The country has also invested heavily in its tourism sector, with initiatives aimed at promoting the country as a destination for both religious and recreational tourism.
THE BAD ABOUT SAUDI ARABIA
There are also a number of issues that have been the subject of criticism and concern. Let’s have a look at some of the things that might not be good about Saudi Arabia.
BAD: Treatment of women
One issue that has received significant attention is the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia. The country has a strict system of gender segregation, and women are subject to a number of legal restrictions and limitations on their freedom of movement and expression. For example, women in Saudi Arabia are required to have a male guardian who has the authority to make decisions on their behalf and control their movements.
However, in August 2020, the Saudi Arabian government announced that they would be revoking the laws that required women to have a male guardian’s permission to travel, marry, or even leave prison. Additionally, the law that required women to wear an abaya (a loose-fitting black cloak) in public was also repealed.
BAD: Lack of political freedoms
Another issue that has been the subject of criticism is the lack of political freedoms in Saudi Arabia. The country is an absolute monarchy, and political parties are not allowed. There is also no independent judiciary, and human rights groups have reported cases of arbitrary detention, torture, and other human rights abuses by the authorities.
BAD: Treatment of migrant workers
There have also been concerns about the treatment of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia. Many migrant workers, particularly those from South and Southeast Asia, work in low-paying, hazardous jobs and are subject to abuse and exploitation by their employers. Migrant workers are also often denied access to basic rights and protections, such as the right to form unions or to seek legal recourse for workplace abuses.
BAD: Treatment of minority groups
Human rights groups have also raised concerns about the treatment of minority groups in Saudi Arabia, including the Shi’a minority in the Eastern Province and the bidun, a stateless minority group. These groups have faced discrimination and marginalization, and have been denied access to education and employment opportunities.
BAD: Lack of freedom of expression
Another issue that has been a source of concern is the lack of freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia. The government tightly controls the media and censors the internet, and individuals who express dissenting views or criticize the government can face arrest and imprisonment.
BAD: Environmental concerns
There have also been concerns about the environmental impact of Saudi Arabia’s economic development. The country is a major producer of oil, and the extraction and refining of oil has contributed to environmental degradation, including air and water pollution. Additionally, the country’s rapid population growth and urbanization have put a strain on natural resources, such as water, and have contributed to environmental problems such as desertification.
BAD: Tense relationship with other countries
It is also worth noting that Saudi Arabia has a complex and often tense relationship with other countries in the region. The country has been involved in a number of conflicts and disputes, including the ongoing conflict in Yemen, and has been accused of supporting extremist groups and interfering in the internal affairs of other countries.
Overall, Saudi Arabia has made significant progress in recent decades, and they have big things happening in their 2030 plan, which I talked about in the episode a few days ago.
Saudi Arabia has a rich culture and history, a strong economy, and a well-developed infrastructure. It is home to a number of historical and cultural sites, top-ranked universities, and renowned medical facilities.
The country is also home to a number of beautiful natural landscapes.
But there are still a number of issues that have been the subject of criticism and concern. Treatment of women, lack of political freedoms, treatment of migrant workers and minority groups, and lack of freedom of expression.
I feel it’s important for Saudi Arabia to address the problematic issues and work towards a more just and equitable society if they really want to make it a dynamic and attractive place to live and visit.
What do you think?
These are my own opinions, based on my experiences visiting the country, and the research I’ve done. You might disagree – and if you do, please let me know. Either on The Radio Vagabond on Facebook or by sending me a message via theradiovagabond.com/contact.
Please also listen to my other episodes from Saudi Arabia:
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