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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Year in review: How Saudi Arabia made its mark in tech, tourism, diplomacy and entertainment in 2023
JEDDAH/ATHENS: Saudi Arabia will look back on 2023 as a year of triumphs, having hosted major events in the fields of technology, culture, sport and diplomacy, while continuing on its path of impressive economic expansion and diversification.
In the past 12 months, the Kingdom has played host to sports stars, tech experts, fashionistas, and music and movie legends. Having secured its bid to host World Expo 2030, Saudi Arabia has a lot to celebrate as it enters the new year.
Reflecting the Kingdom’s growing confidence on the world stage, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman gave a wide-ranging interview in English to US broadcaster Fox News on Sept. 21, winning plaudits for its clarity of thought and ambition.
The conversation with Fox News political correspondent Bret Baier covered topics such as relations with Israel, Iran’s nuclear program and the many positive changes taking place in the Kingdom.
A week prior to the interview, the crown prince made a state visit to India at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. After heading the Saudi delegation to the G20 summit in New Delhi, he was welcomed with a grand ceremonial reception.
The crown prince oversaw the signing of several joint agreements between the Kingdom and India in the fields of energy, agriculture, industry, and petrochemicals, among other areas, cementing a relationship with one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.
In July, Saudi Arabia also became the 51st country to accede to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, or TAC. Established in 1976 and embodies universal principles of peaceful coexistence and friendly cooperation among States in Southeast Asia.
Prince Faisal bin Farhan, the Saudi foreign minister, signed the treaty during the ministerial meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.
In October, Riyadh hosted the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council nations and ASEAN members for a joint summit.
World Expo 2030
In November, Saudi Arabia emerged victorious in its bid to host World Expo 2030. The Kingdom won by a landslide at the Bureau International des Expositions vote, receiving 119 ballots compared to runners-up South Korea with 29 votes and Italy with 17.
The eagerly anticipated event will take place in the Saudi capital Riyadh under the theme “The Era of Change: Together for a Foresighted Tomorrow,” with a focus on technology, innovation, climate action, and addressing global inequality — ideas that fall in line with Vision 2030.
According to the Riyadh Expo 2030 website, the event is expected to welcome 40 million in-person visitors to a site measuring more than 6 million square meters, in addition to a billion metaverse visits.
Business and innovation
In January, Saudi Arabia established its place as a future leader in tech with the launch of its brand-new smart city, The Line, which completely reimagines sustainable urban living.
At an exhibition in Riyadh, the Kingdom displayed several of the designs to be implemented at The Line, which is currently under construction as part of northwest Saudi Arabia’s NEOM project.
The 200-meter wide, 500-meter high, and 170-km-long city, with a planned capacity of 9 million people, will function without cars, roads, or emissions, utilizing 100 percent renewable energy and hydroponic gardens.
The Kingdom took the tech world by storm in February with its four-day LEAP conference in Riyadh.
The second annual iteration of the conference, held at the city’s International Convention and Exhibition Center, saw more than a quarter of a million registrations on the first day alone.
At the conference, Abdullah Al-Swaha, the Saudi minister of information, announced more than $9 billion in investments to support tech startups and entrepreneurship.
In March, Saudi Arabia made another major leap in the business world, with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announcing the establishment of the country’s second flag carrier, Riyadh Air.
Having already received its airline designator code from the International Air Transport Association, Riyadh Air’s fleet of Boeing 787 aircraft will soon serve more than 100 international and domestic destinations.
The crown prince also announced in February the launch of the New Murabba project, a planned 19-sq. km development in Riyadh that will offer hundreds of thousands of residential units, hotel rooms, retail spaces, leisure assets, and community facilities.
The Kingdom hosted a range of internationally acclaimed sporting, cultural, and music events in 2023, changing the football world forever when Portuguese megastar Cristiano Ronaldo joined Saudi club Al-Nassr.
A promotional video of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner donning traditional Saudi attire for Saudi National Day quickly went viral.
March saw Jeddah hold the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, where a crowd of 150,000 watched some of the world’s top drivers take on the 6-km track.
During the high-octane event, Khalid Al-Falih, Saudi Arabia’s minister of investment, oversaw the signing of 14 agreements to support the sports sector.
This was followed in October by the Battle of the Baddest, the heavyweight boxing match between WBC champion Tyson Fury and former UFC champion Francis Ngannou. Fury won the fight, which was held in Riyadh’s Kingdom Arena, by a 10-round split decision.
During the summer season, Riyadh hosted Grammy Award-winning rapper Macklemore as well as the multi-platinum band Imagine Dragons during a stop on their Mercury World Tour.
Coinciding with the 93rd Saudi National Day, the third edition of AlUla’s AZIMUTH Festival captivated visitors at the world-renowned cultural heritage site in September and featured international acts, Saudi DJs and other Arab musicians.
Fashionistas flocked to the inaugural Riyadh Fashion Week in October, which showcased dozens of Saudi designers and set the stage for the city’s emergence as a new Middle Eastern fashion capital.
Then, in December, Soundstorm 2023, hosted by MDLBeast, rocked Riyadh, with musical guests including 50 Cent, the Black Eyed Peas, David Guetta, Calvin Harris, Metallica, and Wiz Khalifa.
If the tech, investment, tourism and entertainment offerings of the past 12 months are anything to go by, Saudi Arabia is well on track to becoming the Middle East’s top must-visit destination.
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