Exclusive: i24NEWS reporters visit Saudi Arabia during Biden trip
'Look at the diversity we are having now'
i24NEWS correspondents Pierre Klochendler and Mael Benoliel shared their experiences from a unique trip to Saudi Arabia that took place last weekend as US President Joe Biden visited the kingdom.
Talking on Monday about their series of exclusive reports from the Gulf country that doesn’t have diplomatic relations with Israel, the journalists explained that they received electronic visas with their foreign passports and came to Saudi Arabia as tourists. Although it complicated the filming process, they didn’t face any hostility from local residents.
“They would ask us where we are from and when we felt comfortable, then we’d say, 'We are Israelis,'” Klochendler said.
His colleague Benoliel also noted that the people they talked to "were positive," although surprised to see Israeli citizens visiting Saudi Arabia. The Gulf state announced on Friday it would open its airspace for all flights to and from Israel.
“There was a sense of bewilderment, they were shocked,” Klochendler added, saying there were some accusations from local residents regarding Israeli politics toward Palestinians but expressed with “a lot of respect and politeness.”
The report was dedicated to a trip to the Saudi capital Riyadh, which welcomed the journalists with blazing heat and empty streets as local authorities extended holidays after Muslims celebrated Eid al-Adha and the hajj. However, the impact of recent reforms was evident as i24NEWS reporters explored the city.
“I’ve been in hospitality (business) since only 2017, now I am a department head. This is all because of the management programs that they (Saudi authorities) are providing,” Ghahem An-Nasser, a hotel manager, told i24NEWS reporters.
“Look at the diversity we are having now,” he added, pointing to his female colleague working at the reception.
The comment refers to Saudi women integrating into many professional spheres - from bankers and business owners to food cart vendors and shoe sellers - since 2016, when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled his "Vision 2030" plan aimed at diversifying the kingdom's economy.
The Panorama mall in downtown Riyadh with a display of American brands was another proof of this policy. A female worker told the journalists that 65 movie theaters opened across the city after an almost 35-year ban on cinemas was lifted in 2018.