Saudi Arabia celebrated the 87th anniversary of its foundation this weekend with a big program of concerts and performances, including a pageant operetta on Saturday evening which allowed women to enter the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh for the first time.
The festivities are part of a government move to boost national pride and improve the quality of life for Saudis.
Also on offer is a concert in the Red Sea city of Jeddah featuring 11 Arab musicians, plus fireworks, air acrobatics and traditional folk dance shows.
“It is the first time I have come to the stadium and I feel like more of a Saudi citizen. Now I can go everywhere in my country,” said 25-year-old Sultana, green and white flags painted on both cheeks as she entered the complex with her girlfriends.
“God willing, tomorrow women will be permitted bigger and better things like driving and travel.”
Dozens of families entered the stadium – where top football matches are held – through a separate gate from single men. They cheered, flashed peace signs and waved green Saudi flags.
A toddler wore a shirt that said “I (heart) Saudi Arabia” while a young girl donned a green dress with the faces of King Salman and his 32-year-old son, Crown Prince Mohammed, printed on it.
The events are the latest entertainment sponsored by the government as part of the Vision 2030 reform program launched two years ago to diversify the economy away from oil, create whole new sectors to employ young citizens and open up Saudis’ cloistered lifestyles.