The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has undeniably come a long way since its founding in 1932. A number of changes took the country by storm in 2018, proving just how serious Saudi Arabia is about modernizing.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman pointed out that the conservative, and sometimes oppressive, policies of Saudi Arabia are not historically part of the kingdom.
Under his leadership, a number of reforms have taken ground. To mark the kingdom's 88th National Day, here are a few memorable moments that put Saudi Arabia back on track to its origins:
1. Saudi women began driving ... for the first time since 1957
On June 24, Saudi Arabia witnessed a historic moment as women in the kingdom were finally able to get behind the wheel after a long-standing driving ban was lifted in September 2017.
Months later, that royal decree materialized. The journey started with granting women their driver's licenses in batches ... and continued with women hitting the roads just as soon as the clock ticked past midnight.
For decades before the historic decision finally took effect, Saudi women were strictly banned from driving in their own country. Hundreds of them had tirelessly fought to end the ban for years and finally saw their activism take shape.
Allowing women to drive is part of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman's wide-ranging drive to modernize the country under Vision 2030. The plan aims to diversify the kingdom's economy away from oil as well as "reform" Saudi society as a whole.
MBS' efforts aim to increase female workforce participation from 22 percent to 30 percent by 2030. Allowing women to drive is a vital component of that.
2. Saudi Arabia allowed women to "run in an official sports event" in the kingdom
In March, Saudi Arabia held its first-ever women's run, which saw over 1,500 women from across the kingdom take part. The event, which was held in Al Ahsa, wasn't only limited to females but was considered the first time women run in an official sports event.
According to Al Arabiya, the run was organized by Al-Moosa Hospital and sponsored by the Saudi General Authority for Sports in collaboration with Al-Ahsa security. In his statement on the event, the marathon’s General Supervisor, Malik Al-Mousa, said the unique function aims to enhance running as a sport.
Just weeks before the groundbreaking run was announced, Saudi officials stated that women will be allowed to take part in the Riyadh international marathon next year. Previously, women were prohibited from running in the country's official marathons.
3. Saudi Arabia opened up its first cinema since the 1980s
Months ago, Saudi Arabia ended a long-standing ban on cinemas in the country, announcing the kingdom's plans to open movie theaters in 2018. Those plans were executed in April as the kingdom opened the doors to its first cinema in more than 35 years.
The AMC Theater, which is located in the King Abdullah Financial District in the capital city of Riyadh, screened Black Panther during the private, invite-only screening. The moment was considered to be a historic one for the kingdom as sweeping changes are taking ground in the country.
In hopes to build an industry that will contribute more than 90 billion riyals ($24 billion) to the economy, authorities plan to open 300 additional cinemas with 2,000 screens across the kingdom by 2030. Cinemas were banned in the early 1980s after a number of powerful clerics closed down existing ones in the kingdom.
4. The kingdom's national football team competed in the World Cup ... for the first time since 2006
In 2018, Saudi Arabia's national team, the Green Falcons, flew out to Russia to compete in the FIFA World Cup, having not qualified for the games since 2006. The kingdom made international headlines in September 2017 after becoming the first Arab country to secure a spot to compete in the football tournament.
The kingdom was eventually eliminated from the games, after losing several matches in its group. Saudi Arabia has played in five FIFA World Cup tournaments (1994, 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2018), however, its only victory was in 1994 when the national team made it to the second round.
5. WWE flew out to Saudi Arabia in search of "superstars" to join their roster
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia's sports authority signed a 10-year deal with the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), granting Saudis the opportunity to watch WWE matches live in the kingdom throughout the years.
A month later, the entertainment brand made it out to Saudi Arabia in search of the next wave of superstars to join its professional roster. WWE was looking to hire people in various sports sectors including soccer, powerlifting, volleyball, boxing, jiujitsu, gymnastics, CrossFit, and Taekwondo, as part of its global talent recruiting efforts.
To do so, the brand hosted a four-day talent tryout at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, which saw over 25 athletes take part. The agreement also gave the kingdom the opportunity to welcome some of the world's most popular wrestlers and host several WWE events, including the Royal Rumble.
6. The kingdom passed a draft law criminalizing sexual harassment
Last September, Saudi Arabia's King Salman ordered the drafting of an anti-sexual harassment law. Nearly a year later, the order materialized as the kingdom's 150-seat Shura Council passed a long-awaited anti-harassment law, with a majority of 84 votes.
In May, the kingdom's legislative advisory body officially approved the draft bill, criminalizing sexual harassment. The draft law carries a maximum penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $80,000. The edict is of vital importance in the kingdom, where women continue to face high rates of sexual harassment.
According to a 2014 study, nearly 80 percent of women - aged 18 to 48 - said they have experienced some form of sexual harassment in Saudi Arabia.