NY Times on Saudi Youth

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.

12 thoughts on “NY Times on Saudi Youth

  1. I read the piece today. Now I don’t know if the translation has something to do with the way the story turned out, but to me it seemed more like a plot to expose a pre-painted image of Saudi youth that is already set in the writers mind than an actual try to explore what the reality of Saudi youth is.
    By the same token one can follow the daily live of a high school drop out in a small Mormon town in Utah and display it as a portray of how American Youth are living/thinking.

    I’ll wait and see how their next piece about Saudi women turns, if its the same as this one, then the whole series would be just another piece of crap like the many we see in the Western media.

  2. Cast me ….Jew me…lynch me …I am who I am…No man would let me evolve in what way or shape they want me. I will be me, even if me would stink as skunk

    I am the Bedouin in my rags…I am the graduate of the Ivy League. I am here… I will be here. Forces and power after power will come and go. I will be here.

  3. As u mentioned its almost miracle to find out the Saudi youth’s identity in such country which looks like a continent with different believes traditional and way of thinking and behaving in such fast changing time

    But I noticed that the western media interesting in showing the prominent image of reckless for those poor young Saudi

  4. I literally just got through reading this on the International Herald Tribune site, and was going to ask your opinion on it……You beat me to it!

    Entropy – Sorry, but I don’t see your point. Quite the contrary, this seemed like a very open view of what it is to be a Saudi youth. From my POV, it very clearly shows the inner battles that Saudi youth go through. For me, the most telling moment was towards the end of the piece, when Nader remarked that “there is no romance,” and Enad proceeded to berate him, saying that there is indeed romance – with one’s wife. (As opposed to open romance with a woman who is not one’s wife, which is what Nader seemed to be striving to point out.)

    If you are suggesting by your Mormon comment that the article is presenting a very narrow slice of Saudi life and applying it as a general take on all Saudi life, then please, cite places in the article where you believe this to be so.

    So, Entropy, is there truth in what Nader says? Is there no romance in your nation? Is the restrictions on male/female relationships stifling romance? Can a man love a wife he has never met until his wedding day?

    These ideas and practices are so very foreign to us here in the West, and the more I try to wrap my head around them, the more the concepts elude me.

    I’ll ask a basic question: How much of these laws, regulations, etc. regarding relationships between men and women are the result of cultural/national custom, and how much is the result of religious custom? (Islam, specifically.)

  5. I just read and saw this article on the NYT and believe me all I felt from that interview and listening to these guys talking was anger.. that every new generation still repeats what we heard from the generation before.. Love in Saudi is too complicated.. the faces are young but the tongue is still very old.. we still have a long long way to go here.. I sit in the car and watch the people around me and all I feel is this emense overwhelming repeating question in my mind over and over again why do we live this way?..

  6. The article in the NYT was accurate, and actually a large step up from their usual reportage. The key question you raised was most appropriate: It is not that such people do not exist – it is how representative of the entire society they are. Furthermore, as numerous commenters indicated – how much of the same sort of mentality exists in the USA among its own religious conservatives and/or misogynists – the ones who are the reason most women carry pepper spray or some kind of defensive mechanism.

    The commenters who actually lived in the Kingdom were far more critical of the article than those whose prejudices against this “alien threat” were fed.

    When, oh when will the NYT balance their reporting on the yahoos with, say, serious interviews with Saudi professional women? Have you written the Public Editor asking him? It might be effective.

  7. To be honest, this piece has some truth to it, but this truth is mixed and matched in a weird way!! And it is not a representation of the Saudi Youth in whole, only a slice of it. The author is choosing exactly what reality to present and what reality to omit, to insure that it is appealing to his American readers. Which, in my opinion, takes out any integrity the piece holds.

    One thing I am not fond of when it comes to the American media, is that stories tend to start with a reality but then gets wrapped by a twist to serve an agenda! An example of that, is when they use Arabic words to describe an event even though there is a corresponding English word for it!
    – Person X made HAWALAT to a Palestinian group
    Why not say: Person X made wire transfers to a Palestinian group
    Or even better: Person X sent aid to a Palestinian group
    – Barrack Obama attended a MADDRASSA when he was a kid
    Why not say: Barrack Obama attended an Islamic school when he was a kid
    Do not get me wrong, they are free to say whatever they want, but do not tell me such playing with words has no effect, on the contrary it injects an intended form of fear or reinforce a pre-painted image.

    I just hope in some way or another this story could be a reality check for the slice of Saudi Youth who are similar to Nader & Enad!

  8. I kinda share the same opinion as yours. people in KSA are mostly either hypocrits, or in denial. Of course, I don’t mind what they would say in that article as long as it doesn’t connect the negativities with our relgion cause god knows, Islam has nothing to do with the negative aspects of our society.
    I’m a faithfull reader of your blog by the way, but never thought of commenting.
    Keep it going ^__^

  9. It would be helpful to know what changes in your country you are referring to. Could it be the fear and uncertainty is a universal human part of transitioning from childhood to adulthood? Perhaps it is a mix of normal human reactions and changes in Saudi society. To what extent is this fear and uncertainty driving people to become involved with groups such as Al Qaeda?

  10. Whenever foreign media tries to cover a story in another country, they only look for ‘spicy’ things.

    After all, there are profits to be made and costumer base to be expanded.

    In today’s World, there is no such thing as one culture – it is every household for itself and every individual for itself. In Pakistan, this reality is much more clearly defined. You see everywhere contrasting siblings and contrasting households – yet they all live in the same city.

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