A land of pilgrimages and ancient civilisations, deserts, sandstone mountains and breath-taking views, Saudi Arabia is now going through swingeing social change. Skyscrapers and shopping malls spring up beside the ruins of the early settlements and a great cultural ferment radiates throughout the peninsula from the capital Riyadh all the way to Dammam, the most important city on the east coast, where a major light festival is currently being held, featuring installations by international artists.
Until the 1980s, Dammam was a sleepy fishing village overlooking the Persian Gulf, surrounded by desert, directly opposite Bahrain, to which it is connected by a bridge. Then, when oil was discovered at the nearby town of Al-Dhahran, the area saw rapid development, becoming the centre of Saudi Arabia’s oil and gas industry, controlled by Saudi Aramco, the most highly capitalised company in the world.
Over the last few years, the Saudi government has taken steps to map its post-petroleum era economy, guided by the Vision 2030 strategic plan, designed to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, diversify the economy and develop public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructures, culture, recreational activities and tourism.