A new study has found that the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, has a very large number of people who suffer from depression compared to the rest of the world.
Social workers in Saudi Arabia believe that depression among Saudi youth is mainly due to the lack of recreational activities that add color and joy to life. Many young Saudis admit to being bored, depressed and frustrated. However, lately the government has attempted to address this problem and has allowed entertainment activities to be held across the country. Al-Janadriyah and Souk Okaz are among the most celebrated festivals sponsored by the government.
Several institutions have been authorized to organize cultural and entertainment activities for the nation’s youth. The Organization of Art and Theater Festivals and the Saudi Arabian Society of Culture and Arts(SASCA), continue to support and sponsor entertainment events.
However, they remain chartered associations under government restrictions and control. So far SASCA has sponsored several youth initiatives to create activities and entertainment facilities around the country, particularly in Jeddah.
Among the most interesting and enterprising youth companies involved in entertainment activities is Yiji , which was launched in October 2012 at the Jeddah Youth Business Committee Exhibition. The founders Anmar Fathaldin and Bader Redwan, are keen to provide Red Sea cruises with fishing, diving and snorkeling, desert getaways, and cultural nights and tours in Jeddah’s Al-Balad district and other historical areas. Some of their future projects include treasure hunt competitions and beach football tournaments. Let us hope that they will continue their activities without restrictions or forced closures.
Online entertainment is also becoming increasingly popular with young people. Abdullah Mando, Anmar Fathaldin and Omar Murad founded a company that produced “UTURN Entertainment” in July 2010.
Fathaldin is the co-founder of UTURN Entertainment and Redwan is a partner of “nsideOut,” another popular youth event management company.
Today, UTURN’s 25-member team has become well-known throughout the region, including Omar Hussein, the host of “Ala Al-Tayer” and Bader Saleh, host of “Eysh Elly”. Ala Al-Tayer shows include satirical criticism of bad decisions taken by authorities and poke fun at social ills to raise awareness among the youth about the latest developments taking place in the country. According to statistics these programs have “more than 130 million views, hundreds of thousands of subscribers and 16 ongoing shows under various categories. Last year, UTURN averaged 20-30 million viewers per month in MENA alone, while competitors like Yahoo’s video services in the MENA region averaged only 13 million views a month.”
Ahmed Al-Maid, a graduate of McGill University with a degree in engineering and management, is the co-founder of the upcoming mobile app KareSpot, a mobile network that aims to connect volunteers with volunteering opportunities in MENA.
Yaser Bakr, who hosts a sports show on YouTube, has come up with the idea of a Jeddah Comedy Club that gives a chance to aspiring comedians to practice standup comedy and new comedy routines.
In Saudi Arabia young people make up 70 percent of the population. Young Saudis today speak the language of the Internet and communicate through Facebook and YouTube. Decision makers need to understand the way youth express themselves and their way of communication in order to encourage their innovative and creative contributions toward the development of our nation.
Thousands of scholarship graduates will be returning home with degrees from reputable universities. They will be coming back after having lived and gained experience in the more advanced countries of the world. We cannot insult their intelligence and ignore their viewpoints and aspirations. Rabah Habis and Sara Almaeena both scholarship students studying in the United States have created an online social network to connect Saudi students abroad. The network provides a platform for students to connect, collaborate, and share their experiences. It keeps them well informed about the latest youth related issues and helps them share their ideas and opinions about matters that concern their life abroad and their future careers at home. Such talented students must not come back to a life of idleness and lost opportunities. It is time to move beyond the cosmetic changes that are taking place in Saudi Arabia today.
More needs to be done to encourage youth participation. Large investments are needed to utilize the capabilities and talents of our young people. New policies and innovative strategies are required to serve their interests and address their needs. An immediate change in our many of our regulations is necessary.
Rigid laws and regulations that restrict the creativity and innovative ideas of our youth are the reasons behind their frustration. There is a dire need for a more open society and a more responsive government that can better serve the Kingdom’s youth today.
*This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Jan. 12, 2013. Link: http://www.saudigazette.com.sa/index.cfm?method=home.regcon&contentid=20130112148996
Samar Fatany is a Chief Broadcaster in the English section at Jeddah Broadcasting Station. Over the past 28 years, she has introduced many news, cultural, and religious programs and has conducted several interviews with official delegations and prominent political personalities visiting the kingdom. Fatany has made significant contributions in the fields of public relations and social awareness in Saudi Arabia and has been involved in activities aiming at fighting extremism and enhancing women’s role in serving society. She has published three books: “Saudi Perceptions & Western Misconceptions,” “Saudi Women towards a new era” and “Saudi Challenges & Reforms.”