Saudi couples free to enjoy sun, sea and music as kingdom slowly loosens up

Head of events at King Abdullah Economic City says ‘Pure Beach is targeting foreign tourists as well’


AFP October 15, 2021
Pure Beach is at King Abdullah Economic City, about 125 kilometres (about 80 miles) north of Jeddah's city centre. PHOTO: AFP

JEDDAH:

For Asma, spending a day on the beach with her partner was unthinkable until recently in Saudi Arabia.

Now, the 32-year-old is dancing with her partner on white sands fringing the Red Sea, to music thumping from loudspeakers.

It's a small reminder of the changes underway in the kingdom, which is attempting to ease some of its tight social strictures in a modernisation drive.

Music was banned in public places until 2017, a measure enforced by the religious police, and women were only allowed to drive a year later. Beaches are still usually segregated between men and women.

But for 300 Saudi riyals ($80) each, Asma and her partner can enter Pure Beach near Jeddah, with its music, dancing and inflatable water park spelling "Saudi Arabia" in English when viewed from above.

"I am happy that I can now come to a nearby beach to enjoy my time," she said.

"It is the epitome of fun... it was our dream to come here and spend a beautiful weekend."

The mixed beach parties began in August

As the sun sets, performers dance to music on a lit stage.

Pure Beach is at King Abdullah Economic City, about 125 kilometres (about 80 miles) north of Jeddah's city centre.

"I was raised here, and a few years ago we weren't even allowed to listen to music," said Egyptian Hadeel Omar.

The Gulf kingdom's social reforms are spurred by a desire to diversify its oil-reliant economy, including by stimulating tourism and domestic spending.

Only business travellers and Muslim pilgrims could visit until 2019, when Saudi Arabia began offering tourist visas.

Bilal Saudi, head of events at King Abdullah Economic City, said the beach was targeting "both local visitors and (foreign) tourists".

"I feel that I no longer have to travel (abroad) to have a good time... because everything is here," said Dima, a young Saudi businesswoman.

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