Saudi Arabia Is Planning A Luxury Beach Resort Where Women Might Be Allowed To Wear Bikinis

Strict laws on women's dress and gender segregation could be relaxed at the the resort on the Red Sea coast.

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A tourism project to transform Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coastline into a luxury beach resort could lead to more relaxed laws on women's dress and gender segregation.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi's new heir to the throne, has announced plans to develop over 200 kilometres of beaches in the north west of the country, along with 50 untouched islands off the western coast.

In a statement, the government said the destination will "set new standards for sustainable development and bring about the next generation of luxury travel to put Saudi Arabia on the international tourism map."

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With the hope that the resort will attract overseas visitors, the law which forces women to wear an abaya - a full-length robe - could be changed to allow women to wear bikinis instead of covering up their skin. While there's no clear confirmation of this yet, a statement from the government said the resort will be "governed by laws on par with international standards".

This relaxing of the dress code would be a radical change to the restrictions in place on the deeply conservative mainland, where women are required to wear an abaya in public.

Women are also prohibited from driving and the law dictates that they must have a male guardian, who can grant permission for women to leave the country, study and access medical services. Alcohol is also banned, although it's not clear whether this will be allowed in the resort.

However, some restrictions have been loosened in recent years. Women are now allowed to vote in local elections and in May, King Salman issued an order permitting women to access government services such as education and healthcare without the need of guardian consent.

Construction of the Red Sea resort is due to begin in 2019, with the first phase expected to be completed by 2022. Once up and running, the government said it will create up to 35,000 jobs and welcome one million visitors each year by 2035.

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