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‘Uniquely Captive Audience’

Matt Smith reports for Reuters:

The restrictions on Saudi society, where morality police patrol public spaces to enforce approved modes of behavior, has created a uniquely captive audience for web-based news and entertainment, media experts say.

With a population of 28.3 million, Saudi Arabia is now the biggest user of YouTube per capita in the world, and according to analysts Semiocast was the eighth most active country on Twitter as of April, accounting for 2.33 percent of all tweets.

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Countering the Apparent Dominance of Public Piety

The Economist:

Young Saudis, bypassing the kingdom’s strictures on public entertainment with the aid of new technology, have taken to producing comic videos, musical performances and serious theatre in their homes and beaming them into the ether. A subculture of irreverence forms an increasingly strong counterpoint to the apparent dominance of public piety.

Video: Saudi Man Playing on the Hood of Speeding Car

This video of a Saudi man playing with his phone on a car hood as the driver cruises in Riyadh has gone viral since it was uploaded to YouTube few days ago. The uploader of the video wrote that the car was moving at a speed of 90km/h on Makkah road, one of the main highways in the Saudi capital, while the man who has covered his face with a red checkered shumagh can be seen on top of a Ford Crown Victoria vehicle sitting on the hood and later lying on the windshield and shaking his legs in the air.

Reasons for Optimism

Khaled Almaeena says most of the cynicism about Saudi Arabia’s future is not justified:

There is an urgency, a fire that flows among the nation’s youth, to work hard, produce and be part of this great drama as the Kingdom strives hard to take its place in a progressive world.

The human element is an integral part of growth and progress, and thus thousands of young Saudis have been sent abroad to acquire knowledge and skills to put to use upon their return.

This is a country that has talent. Young people playing musical instruments, athletes, writers, poets and those with many other talents all look to the future with energy.

Is this youthful urgency matched by the government? Can elderly bureaucrats keep up with these talented young people and their dreams and aspirations?

Saudi Youth Idle No More

Sabria S. Jawhar says the perception that “Saudi youths are idle, humorless and disengaged from the political and societal movements” was probably true for previous generations, but it is not the case for the new generation. You can see that, she says, in the many YouTube comedy shows produced by young Saudis over the past two years:

More important than simply entertainment, the Saudi government can learn a great deal about what young people think, especially as ministries prepare to introduce new regulations that affect society in general or more specific issues like employment. Their comedic commentaries are a constructive way to express disappointment without being confrontational.

The Young Saudi Dilemma

Omar Johani, a Saudi student in Los Angeles, tweeted today:

Translation

Definition of dilemma: To choose between living in Saudi Arabia in order to try build a better country for your children, or immigrating to live abroad because life is too short and you don’t want to waste it in Saudi Arabia.

This is something a lot of young Saudis who have the choice to leave their country find themselves forced to tackle and think about. King Abdullah Scholarship Program has given hundreds of thousands of young men and women the chance to experience living abroad. As they become more worldly, they begin to increasingly ponder such choices in life. Some feel that they are citizens of the world who happened to be born in Saudi Arabia and they don’t feel bound to come back. Others feel that, no matter where they go or how long they stay away, they have to return home one day to contribute to the development of their country.

Majority of Saudi Youth Engage in Forbidden Behavior, Morality Police Says

I was leaving a restaurant with friends in Jeddah last October when a member from the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice stopped me. He gave me a warning about the T-shirt I was wearing, then he let me go. My T-shirt had the face of Gandhi with a line of text underneath that said: “Give peace a chance.” Clothes with images on them, especially of humans or animals, are apparently a serious offense in the eyes of the morality police.

The Research and Studies Center affiliated with the Commission has recently published a study which concluded that at least 59 percent of Saudi youth engage in “undesirable and forbidden behaviors,” the Saudi edition of al-Hayat reported today. The newspaper continues to explain that wearing cloths with images on them tops the list of such behaviors, followed by wearing necklaces and bracelets. The afro hairdo came a close third.

The study recommended that the government should adopt an official concept of what they described as “foreign behaviors.” Because once such concept is officially adopted, it would be easier for the Commission to crack down on these behaviors. The study, however, did not offer any answers regarding if such obsession with social control would push our country over the cliff of sanity.

UPDATE: The Commission have denied that they have commissioned the study reported by al-Hayat. A spokesman for the Commission told Sabq that they have rejected this study that was conducted by a research center at King Saud University due to scientific errors. “Those who misled public opinion by promoting these numbers and publicizing these inaccurate studies must be held accountable,” he said. He added that the Commission would seek legal against those who published such information and attributed them to the Commission.

UPDATE II: Al-Hayat responds by publishing two photos. The first shows the cover of the study which clearly bears the name of the Research and Studies Center at the Commission. The other photo is a copy of a letter from the Commission’s vice president to academics asking them to review the study.