Recently I had the good fortune and honor to be invited to dine at the "Officers Club" in Riyadh. This is a little resort right in the heart of Riyadh, strictly for the use of Saudi military officers, their families and guests.
There is a small luxury hotel that visiting military use when they're in Riyadh. There are gym facilities, pools, covered arcades and walkways to make moving around the site in the desert heat more pleasant, and there is the main club building. This is an expansive, single story building that spreads in every direction under a roof of barrel vaults and domes. The floor plan is entirely open, with the vaults supported by columns arranged on a grid. So you can just wander through the space in any direction you wish, under this undulating ceiling of 3-dimensional curves. The appearance combines a rather baroque sensibility with forms that go back to the beginning of Islamic architecture. The whole however, is made possible by 20th century building technology. It was built in the 1970s.
This image suggests the mood of the interior, though this is NOT a picture of the Officers Club. It's just some random image I got off the net. It would have been extremely inappropriate for me to take pictures inside the place.
Anyhow, back to my point ... Dinner ... There were about 16 of us in the party. We at in one of the private dining rooms off the main lounge area, and had lots of delicious food and pleasant conversation. We were about half westerners and half Saudis.
At one point I had occasion to enjoy a tete-a-tete conversation with a rising young officer. In another 15 years he will probably be one of the top ranking officers in the country. He was a delight to chat with. He was so animated and excited. He wanted to spill out all his thoughts to this outsider from the West.
He immediately touched on the issue of women driving. He found it ridiculous that they were still not allowed to drive. He made a point of telling me, more than once, that more than half the people graduating from Universities in Saudi Arabia are women and that they are skilled in all the professions. He wanted me to understand that he felt they were perfectly capable of doing all the things that men do. He was almost embarrassed about what he felt was a kind of "backwardness".
Conversations like this give me hope for the future. If people like him are thinking this way, the future looks a little rosier.