Saudi Arabia has laid the groundwork for momentous social and economic changes that will take place this year, defying its conservative reputation for slow, cautious reforms.
King Salman and his ambitious 32-year-old son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have upended decades of royal family protocol, social norms and traditional ways of doing business.
They bet instead on a young generation of Saudis hungry for change and a Saudi public fed up with corruption and government bureaucracy.
Saudi Arabia will begin issuing driving licences to women this year
There is also a need to cut a budget deficit of at 195 billion riyals ($50 billion) caused by collapsing oil prices.
The world’s biggest oil exporter had previously been able to rely on income from it to spend lavishly to maintain its population’s standard of living and subsidise the extravagant spending of its royal princes.
The clam down on corruption that has seen 200 officials detained, including one of King Abdullah’s sons, former National Guard chief Prince Miteb bin Abdullah.
He was released last month after agreeing to pay back the government $1 billion.
The conservative kingdom hosted Comic Con events here thousands of fans dressed up in their favorite action-hero costume
Hand-in-hand with economic reforms, the Kingdom is bringing about social changes.
A ban on women driving has been lifted and there are plans to begin issuing licenses to women, even allowing them to drive motorcycles.
This year women will also be allowed to attend sporting matches in national stadiums, where they were previously banned.
Movie theaters, shut down in the 1980s during a wave of ultraconservatism, are returning to the Kingdom.
Rapper Nelly performing in Saudi Arabia, one of many entertainers who made it to the country
Previously, Saudis could stream movies online, watch them on satellite TV or travel to neighboring countries like Bahrain and the UAE.
This past year, rapper Nelly and two Games of Thrones stars came to Saudi Arabia for the first time. John Travolta also visited the Kingdom, meeting with fans and talking to them about the US film industry.
Saudi Arabia also held two Comic Con events in major cities, where thousands of fans dressed up in their favorite action-hero costumes.
Actors Julian Glover and Charles Dance, Grand Maester Pycelle and Tywin Lannister from HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’, made an appearance at one as rock music blared in the halls.