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Progress for Saudi Women Is Uneven, Despite Cultural Changes and More Jobs

Jacob Scott

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — At the cramped shop where Kholoud Ahmed sells the traditional Muslim women’s gowns known as abayas, the rainbow of colors is a revelation.

In the past, women in Riyadh typically dressed in the same black abaya no matter where they were going. Now, observed Ms. Ahmed, 21, there’s a differently colored or styled abaya for every occasion: weddings, meeting friends at a cafe, visiting parents.

“Colored abayas used to be a strange thing for us in Riyadh, something unusual,” said Ms. Ahmed, the store’s clerk. “Within a year it has significantly changed. It has become normal nowadays.”

Since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman became Saudi Arabia’s de facto leader more than four years ago, he has promised new opportunities for Saudi women as part of a broad modernization plan called Vision 2030.

The plan, which is advertised across Riyadh on posters and flags, is meant to wean the kingdom away from its historical reliance on oil and shift it toward new industries, including technology, pharmaceuticals and tourism.

But to create more job opportunities for Saudis and draw international investors and corporations to the desert monarchy, Prince Mohammed is also chipping away at the conservative culture that has kept many women close to home for years and scared away many foreigners.

Over the last five years, the percentage of women working outside the home has almost doubled, according to official statistics, to 32 percent from nearly 18 percent. Women today serve as customs officials at the King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, client relationship managers at banks and hostesses at restaurants.

In addition to changes in the workplace, public space is becoming less strictly segregated by sex. In coffee shops in Riyadh like Overdose (motto: “Caffeine, it’s my drug of choice”), male and female customers can now sip lattes in mixed company.

Women can attend certain sporting events at stadiums, which was forbidden until a few years ago. They are no longer required to use separate entrances from men although some establishments still use them. They can also now apply for passports, live by themselves and travel on their own.

But the progress has been uneven.

The guardianship system, which despite some recent reforms is still in place, means that women must rely on permission from men — often their fathers or husbands, but in some cases their sons — to enter into marriages and make key decisions.

One prominent women’s rights activist was jailed for three years after pushing publicly for some of the very changes Prince Mohammed wanted to make — including allowing women to drive. She has since been released and has published a research paper on the status of Saudi women.

Those fits and starts are also evident in quotidian ways. Women’s attire in Riyadh, though more relaxed than a few years ago, is still far from liberal; even women who avoid abayas wear clothes with long sleeves, high necklines and low hemlines.

They may be using money from their newly earned paychecks to shop for kitten-heeled boots and slip dresses at Zara, but such outfits are still worn only in private settings.

“It’s not like before, like you have to wear, like, hijab and everything,” said Marwa, a 19-year-old university student who was shopping at Ms. Ahmed’s shop, referring to the traditional head scarf worn by Saudi women. “Now you can have free choice, but limited. It’s not like you are showing parts of your body.”

However much things have changed, the culture remains sufficiently conservative — and cautious of angering the authorities — that Marwa, like many of the Riyadh residents interviewed for this article, declined to give her full name.

Marwa said other cultural changes, like allowing store owners to remain open during prayer time to accommodate both merchants and shoppers, created problems of their own.

Some people who are devout and would pray no matter what, she said, could be offended by the business-as-usual attitude. “It’s like you’re not respecting the prayer time,” she said. Her friend Alaa — who wore sweatpants and sneakers under her abaya and sported a wrist tattoo that said “Trust no one” — nodded.

During the call to prayer a few minutes later, a number of male store workers nearby locked their doors and walked to the mall’s prayer room on an upper floor. On the ground floor, about 10 women, patrons who were wearing black abayas and hijabs, took rugs from a corner pile and knelt on them to pray. Other women sat quietly on benches, watching their children ride around in battery-operated toy cars.

A 52-year-old father of six, who gave only a nickname, Abu Abdullah, said he saw the benefits of more flexible prayer times and new opportunities for women. “During traveling, we don’t pray,” he said. “Even women, they don’t pray for seven days,” referring to the fact that women are forbidden to pray when they are menstruating.

Several of Abu Abdullah’s five daughters were standing nearby, eating buttered corn and French fries. One of them, Nout al-Qahtani, 13, said she was thrilled about the changes for women in Saudi Arabia. “I want to work,” she said. “I really want to be a doctor.”

Her father noted that not every dream job would be appropriate.

“Some jobs don’t fit for some women,” he said, citing roles in plumbing and construction work as examples. “It’s better to put her in the right place,” he added.

Five miles north of the mall, a local soccer club, Al Shabab, was playing an out-of-town team at Prince Faisal bin Fahd Stadium. It was a mild evening, and the crowd was animated when the home team scored. On the men’s side of the stadium, hundreds of men jumped to their feet, chanting and clapping for the players.

Across the stadium on what’s known as the family side, where women and children were directed to sit, Najiba, a nurse at the hospital complex King Fahd Medical City, was watching with two colleagues. Although women have been able to go to sports events in Saudi since 2018, it was only her second time at a match.

Najiba, 34, and her friends said that they were seeing far more Saudi women working at the hospital in recent years, and that the idea of women in medical careers had become more palatable to families who might previously have considered a mixed-gender working environment problematic.

“Now the family accepts if they have a daughter or a wife working in health care,” said Najiba, who was a nurse in a neonatal intensive care unit for years before taking on an administrative role.

Below the nurses, a few children were playing in the front row. One child, who had been running around and yelling, was scolded by a female security guard.

Several female spectators said they never missed a match. One, a 29-year-old manager at the Saudi British Bank attending with her brother, spoke highly of Riyadh’s new entertainment options and the growing economic opportunities for women. “We’re so excited,” she said.

A little after 9:30 p.m., the match ended in a 3-0 victory for Al Shabab.

As the crowd dispersed, one of its star players, the midfielder Hattan Bahebri, was signing autographs for dozens of fans through the fence that separated the stands from the field.

At one point, he held his hands in a heart shape in front of him. A clutch of men encircled the player, some with children hoisted on their shoulders. But one woman, her pink-tinted sunglasses atop her hijab, walked to the front of the crowd, raised her phone and got the shot.

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‘Moon Knight’ Took Marvel in a Different Orbit, but It Didn’t Rise to the Occasion

Jacob Scott

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Before anyone writes that off as an anomaly, “Eternals” tackled a similar introduction of a dense mythology on the bigger screen, with equally mixed results. It’s a reminder that while film-goers have had more than a decade to get to know characters like Iron Man, Captain America and Thor, introducing some of these lesser-known heroes can pose a more formidable challenge beyond catering to the most ardent fans.
For Marvel, there are warning signs in that, since “Moon Knight” will be followed by several series based on second-tier characters, although the next two on the horizon, “Ms. Marvel” (which is due in June) and “She-Hulk,” at least have the benefit of sharing franchises and name recognition with existing Avengers.
Ultimately, “Moon Knight’s” murky storytelling appeared to squander its principal assets, which included the cool look of the character — a costume that was too seldom used — and the presence of Isaac, who possesses additional genre credentials via the “Star Wars” sequels.

Taking its time in peeling back the layers of the character’s complicated backstory, “Moon Knight” took a weird plunge into the Egyptian mythology behind it, in ways that became increasingly confounding and surreal.

By the time the protagonist’s two halves, Steven Grant and Marc Spector, wound up in a psychiatric hospital talking to an anthropomorphic hippo in the penultimate chapter, the question wasn’t so much being able to keep up with the story as whether bothering to do so was worth the effort.

The sixth and final episode brought the plot to a messy close, seeking to stop the goddess Ammit from proceeding to “purify the souls of Cairo, and then the world.” In the customary credit sequence, the producers capped that off by introducing a third personality, Jake Lockley, also rooted in the comics. While that seemingly spelled the end for the show’s villain (Ethan Hawke), the finish — giving the god Khonshu the protégé he sought — paved the way for further adventures should Marvel so choose.

That last twist might be cause for celebration in narrower confines of the Marvel fan universe, but “Moon Knight” too often felt like it was one long Easter-egg sequence, conspicuously preaching to that choir.

Granted, Marvel has made clear that Disney+ offers the chance to explore different kinds of stories, but “Moon Knight” feels at best like a quirky showcase for Isaac and at worst a failed experiment in terms of execution and tone.

That doesn’t mean this “Moon” won’t somehow rise again, if the closely held streaming data justifies it. But the promise that surrounded this property has faded, providing further evidence that even Marvel isn’t immune from setbacks as it moves into its next phase.

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Start-up Pony.ai says it’s the first self-driving company to get a taxi license in China

Jacob Scott

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Autonomous driving start-up Pony.ai can collect fares for robotaxi rides in parts of two major Chinese cities as of Sunday.

Pony.ai handout

BEIJING — Self-driving start-up Pony.ai announced Sunday it received a taxi license, the first of its kind in China.

The license allows Pony.ai to operate 100 self-driving cars as traditional taxis in the Nansha district of the southern city of Guangzhou, the company said.

The Chinese start-up, which is backed by Toyota, received approval from Beijing city late last year to charge fees to operate a commercial robotaxi business in a suburban district of the city. It is not the same as a taxi licence.

Baidu’s Apollo Go also received approval in the same Beijing district last year.

Pony.ai was valued at $8.5 billion in early March. The company said its Nansha taxi license required 24 months of autonomous driving testing in China and/or other countries, and no involvement in any active liability traffic accidents, among other factors.

The start-up said it plans to launch commercial robotaxi businesses in two other large Chinese cities next year. The company is already testing self-driving cars in those cities and in California. 

Robotaxis in China currently have a human driver present for safety.

— CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.

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How to watch Timberwolves vs. Grizzlies: TV channel, NBA live stream info, start time

Jacob Scott

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Who’s Playing

Memphis @ Minnesota

Current Records: Memphis 2-1; Minnesota 1-2

What to Know

The Memphis Grizzlies’ road trip will continue as they head to Target Center at 10 p.m. ET this past Saturday to face off against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Memphis will be strutting in after a win while Minnesota will be stumbling in from a loss.

The Grizzlies are hoping for another victory. They beat the Timberwolves 104-95 this past Thursday. The victory came about thanks to a strong surge after the first quarter to overcome a 39-21 deficit. Memphis’ success was spearheaded by the efforts of power forward Brandon Clarke, who had 20 points in addition to eight rebounds, and shooting guard Desmond Bane, who shot 7-for-15 from beyond the arc and finished with 26 points and six boards.

Barring any buzzer beaters, Memphis is expected to win a tight contest. They might be worth taking a chance on against the spread as they are currently on a two-game streak of ATS wins.

Memphis’ win brought them up to 2-1 while the Timberwolves’ defeat pulled them down to a reciprocal 1-2. A couple offensive stats to keep in the back of your head while watching: The Grizzlies come into the game boasting the second most points per game in the league at 115.6. But Minnesota is even better: they rank first in the league when it comes to points per game, with 115.9 on average. Tune in for what’s sure to be a high-scoring contest.

How To Watch

When: Saturday at 10 p.m. ET Where: Target Center — Minneapolis, Minnesota TV: ESPN Online streaming: fuboTV (Try for free. Regional restrictions may apply.) Follow: CBS Sports App Ticket Cost: $76.96

Odds

The Grizzlies are a slight 2.5-point favorite against the Timberwolves, according to the latest NBA odds.

The oddsmakers had a good feel for the line for this one, as the game opened with the Grizzlies as a 3-point favorite.

Over/Under: -110

See NBA picks for every single game, including this one, from SportsLine’s advanced computer model. Get picks now.

Series History

Memphis have won 19 out of their last 28 games against Minnesota.

Apr 21, 2022 – Memphis 104 vs. Minnesota 95 Apr 19, 2022 – Memphis 124 vs. Minnesota 96 Apr 16, 2022 – Minnesota 130 vs. Memphis 117 Feb 24, 2022 – Minnesota 119 vs. Memphis 114 Jan 13, 2022 – Memphis 116 vs. Minnesota 108 Nov 20, 2021 – Minnesota 138 vs. Memphis 95 Nov 08, 2021 – Memphis 125 vs. Minnesota 118 May 05, 2021 – Memphis 139 vs. Minnesota 135 Apr 02, 2021 – Memphis 120 vs. Minnesota 108 Jan 13, 2021 – Memphis 118 vs. Minnesota 107 Jan 07, 2020 – Memphis 119 vs. Minnesota 112 Dec 01, 2019 – Memphis 115 vs. Minnesota 107 Nov 06, 2019 – Memphis 137 vs. Minnesota 121 Mar 23, 2019 – Minnesota 112 vs. Memphis 99 Feb 05, 2019 – Memphis 108 vs. Minnesota 106 Jan 30, 2019 – Minnesota 99 vs. Memphis 97 Nov 18, 2018 – Memphis 100 vs. Minnesota 87 Apr 09, 2018 – Minnesota 113 vs. Memphis 94 Mar 26, 2018 – Memphis 101 vs. Minnesota 93 Dec 04, 2017 – Memphis 95 vs. Minnesota 92 Feb 04, 2017 – Memphis 107 vs. Minnesota 99 Nov 19, 2016 – Memphis 93 vs. Minnesota 71 Nov 01, 2016 – Minnesota 116 vs. Memphis 80 Oct 26, 2016 – Memphis 102 vs. Minnesota 98 Mar 16, 2016 – Minnesota 114 vs. Memphis 108 Feb 19, 2016 – Memphis 109 vs. Minnesota 104 Jan 23, 2016 – Minnesota 106 vs. Memphis 101 Nov 15, 2015 – Memphis 114 vs. Minnesota 106

Injury Report for Minnesota

No Injury Information

Injury Report for Memphis

Dillon Brooks: Game-Time Decision (Foot) Santi Aldama: Out (Knee) Killian Tillie: Out (Knee)

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