Jackie Northam

Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia's state oil company, is often described as the kingdom's crown jewel.

It produces more oil than any other company in the world, supplying the world with a steady supply of crude and providing the kingdom with revenues that make up more than 80 percent of the national budget.

The White Foam Cafe in Riyadh is a cheery little place with wooden tables and chairs, and a good reputation for its fair-trade coffees and vegan desserts. It's also well-known for something else.

"This is one of the really famous dating places here. I dated my fiancé a lot here," says a 29-year-old woman enjoying a French-press coffee.

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On a balmy Thursday evening, dozens of young Saudis stream into the AlComedy Club in the western port city of Jeddah. It's the start of the weekend, and the crowd snacks on popcorn and ice cream before grabbing some of the sagging seats in the theater. Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie" blares from speakers hanging above a tiny stage.

Lubna Olayan remembers the date. It was April 15, 1983, when she and her father sat down to dinner in Riyadh. Olayan and her American husband, John Xefos, had just returned to her native Saudi Arabia after nine years in the United States.

"Over dinner he says 'Lubna, what are you going to be doing here?' " Olayan recalls her father saying. Olayan had worked as a J.P. Morgan analyst in New York, and half-heartedly thought she'd see if there was work at a bank in Saudi Arabia. But her father had something in mind.

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The last few months have seen enormous change for women in Saudi Arabia. They'll soon be allowed to drive and are being encouraged to enter the workforce.

An elite group of movie lovers in the Saudi capital Riyadh got a special treat on Wednesday — a screening of the Hollywood blockbuster Black Panther. The invitation-only event marked the lifting of a ban on cinemas that's lasted more than three decades. It also heralds a new era for Saudi filmmakers, who for years have faced harassment from Saudi authorities for pursuing a profession considered haram, or forbidden, in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

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It was well beyond fashionably late to begin. But models finally took to the runway on Thursday in Saudi Arabia's first-ever Arab Fashion Week.

The event is one of the new entertainment opportunities opening up recently in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

The fashion show hit significant delays, with logistical problems forcing it to open two weeks later than planned. Designers and models had trouble getting travel visas, and the organizers had to change venues to tents on the grounds of the Ritz-Carlton hotel in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

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