Afshin Molavi in Smithsonian Magazine:
Saudi Arabia, long bound by tradition and religious conservatism, is beginning to embrace change. You can see it in public places like Al-Nakheel. You hear it in conversations with ordinary Saudis. You read about it in an energetic local press and witness it in Saudi cyberspace. Slowly, tentatively, almost imperceptibly to outsiders, the kingdom is redefining its relationship with the modern world.
The accession of King Abdullah in August has something to do with it. Over the past several months he has freed several liberal reformers from jail, promised women greater rights and tolerated levels of press freedom unseen in Saudi history; he has reached out to marginalized minorities such as the Shiites, reined in the notorious religious “morals” police and taken steps to improve education and judicial systems long dominated by extremist teachers and judges. But a look around Al-Nakheel suggests another reason for change: demography.
Saudi Arabia is one of the youngest countries in the world, with some 75 percent of the population under 30 and 60 percent under 21; more than one in three Saudis is under 14.