I am often asked what does it mean to be a young man living in Saudi Arabia, and my answer has always been that this is a tough question to which I have no clear answer. So when reporters from the New York Times came to Riyadh last year to explore the question, I sarcastically told them, “good luck with that.”
They spent a few weeks in the Kingdom trying to find some answers, and today they published their first piece on Saudi youth on a special blog they set up in order to collect reactions from readers. The piece is the second installment of an ongoing series on Arab youth published by the Times. They started with Egypt, and now Saudi Arabia. A second piece from Saudi Arabia will be published shortly and will focus on young women.
The interesting story, somehow unconventional and unusual for stories from the Kingdom, features two cousins, Enad and Nader, aged 20 and 22, respectively. Nader is also engaged to Enad’s 17-year-old sister, Sarah.
I believe the story portrays to a good degree the kind of identity crisis that many Saudi youth go through. They found themselves born in a time when their country is changing, and they are having a hard time trying to define themselves in the midst of changes. That leads to the huge amount of fear and uncertainty I see when I look at the mirror or talk to my friends.
In particular, the piece nicely captures the contradictions — or dare I say the hypocrisy — that govern the the lives of our youth. Nader, the guy we see at the beginning of the story trying to hook up with the girl at the front desk of a dental clinic despite the fact that he is engaged to Enad’s sister, shares his disgust at the woman they saw at a restaurant because they thought she was not accompanied by a man, and when a man, apparently her husband, joins her they keep making gestures at them until the couple moves to another table.
Now the important questions is, how much these two young men are representative of the male youth in the country? That’s a whole different story. In a country as large and as diverse as the Kingdom, it’s really difficult to make a general assumption based on an article like this one. True, Nader and Enad are not the kind of people I would usually hang out with, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. How many of them out there, though, is an open-ended question.
One more thing: the NY Times are doing some sort of an experiment with this series. They are posting the stories on their Arabic blog in order to get feedback from Arab readers, and they will try to include some of the readers’ comments when the piece is published in the newspaper later this week. So if you can read Arabic go there and let them know what you think.