The King Abdullah Science and Technology University opened Wednesday is meant to break ground on Saudi Arabia’s scientific learning and gender norms.
The conservative country unveiled on Wednesday its first ever fully coed university, the King Abdullah Science and Technology University (KAUST). In the past, women in the notoriously gender restrictive kingdom were only allowed to take classes separately from men.
The inauguration of KAUST is meant to signal two important developments: a lauded, if politically volatile, softening of hard-line rules, and the kingdom’s rising ambitions of being a hub of scientific learning. Both aims, Saudi Arabia’s rulers hope, will help blunt the impact of extremism.
The university’s lavish inauguration on Wednesday met with glowing praise, according to this description from Arabnews.com:
Breathtaking, spectacular and just amazing. That is how Wednesday's inauguration ceremony of the multibillion-dollar King Abdullah University of Science and Technology was described by a large section of the nearly 3,000 guests that included prominent Saudis, foreign leaders, Nobel laureates, researchers, scientists and journalists.
Women guests in the audience carried along by the heady atmosphere of excitement and expectation spontaneously broke into traditional ululation, a sign of joy and good will.
[T]he new university will not require women to wear veils or cover their faces, and they will be able to mix freely with men.
They will also be allowed to drive, a taboo in a country where women must literally take a back seat to their male drivers.