Why Saudi Arabia is changing

The management of the city’s airport has some advice if you miss your flight from Dammam: spend the night in Bahrain. Whatever you do, try not to take that as a sign that you should avoid time in Saudi if you can. 

The CMME team has been out in force across Saudi Arabia over the last two months as we put the finishing touches on the Construction Machinery Show in Jeddah. Our missed flight was just one memorable episode among many picked up during a two-week marathon that saw whistle-stop tours of Dammam and Riyadh. In between was an extended stay in Jeddah where we got to see first hand the development of the Corniche.

Unfortunately our attempts to take a trip to the Kingdom Tower site were thwarted by traffic and general confusion among almost everyone we met of how to get there. I can see why the Kingdom is building metros, roads, and rail. Getting around is not easy.

Talking to a contractor in Riyadh about it, he just shrugged his shoulders and said “well, this is Saudi”.

I’ve heard that phrase a lot in 2013 although mostly from people working but not living inside the Kingdom. It’s normally complemented by a knowing look of acceptance. A phrase that says that is the way it is, it never changes. I worry that saying it may be a sign of ignorance, especially in the three cities I visited.

Go to a mobile shop just before it re-opens after evening prayers, and you will be fighting for space on the pavement. This is a country that has taken to mobile technology and social media like few others. A cultural change is happening. Not in place of tradition but beside it; and that is having an inevitable effect on attitudes.

People I met who provide a bridge with Saudi and the outside world such as traders and distributors are embracing changes to technology, bringing in enlightened attitudes to their businesses: growing by evolving.

CMME interviews Raad Abduljawad, the managing director of Saudi Diesel Equipment Company, this month. He is a man that has recognised that for his company to keep moving he has to embrace change. Similarly I met Abdulaziz Al Bassam of GTE just before we went to press. A young man who is taking on his father’s progressive vision but also bringing new ideas of his own.

There will be more of that in a future issue of CMME, but for now enjoy our Saudi Arabia special, a look at a country that is a lot more forward thinking than it is often given credit for.

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