It's been a pretty busy week in the Kingdom. It began with National Day on the 23rd of September - the only non-religious public holiday. People were celebrating nationwide - they were out in the streets, dressed in green. Roads were closed and there were fireworks and laser displays in every city. Mobile network providers provided free unlimited data for everyone, and every company in the country had massive sales - basically giving away stock.
In the almost 4 years I've been here, it's been amazing to see how rapidly everything has been changing under the new economic and political reforms. There are some sectors that are barely recognisable from the time I arrived until this week. For the first time ever, both men and women were ushered into one of the main stadiums for celebrations - an event and venue that is usually only reserved for men.
Then this past Tuesday, the King signed an order allowing women to drive in what is considered a historic move to outsiders. However, the situation is a little more complex than that. Most people don't know that women being "forbidden" to drive is not actually a part of Saudi Law. Nowhere does it state in the constitution of the country that it is illegal for women to drive. This was just some clerics opinion that was adopted in the culture and enforced as part of the traditional values of each household - for the sake of peace and unity.
In the meantime, fathers, brothers and uncles were all along teaching their women to drive at their homes and in their towns and villages. Bedouin women are known to have been driving trucks in the desert for as long as trucks have existed in the country.
This is just one of the many "rules and regulations" that are adhered to by the population that have no actual basis in the constitution. To understand the way things work in the Kingdom, one has to delve into the culture of the people - and collectivism is a large part of that culture. The locals are driven by that sense of community - and often comply to norms that they don't necessarily agree with for the sake of the collective.
But there are massive, rapid changes afoot - which is becoming more and more apparent as time goes on. The new reforms are focused less on the old "religious" order and the opinions of old men, and more on the sustainability of modern living, adapting to global customs and moving forward in the 21st century.
To emphasise just how serious these changes are, it was announced that anyone making fun of the Royal Decree allowing women to drive could get up to 5 years in jail and a fine of SAR 3 million.
I must admit it's been quite exciting and sometimes frustrating to be at the forefront of these changes. It will be interesting to see what becomes of it.