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More than just recreation in Saudi Arabia

Saudi residents have always had to travel out of the country for country, but not for much longer

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

I asked Doctor Ahmad al-Khatib, head of the Commission for Recreation and Culture, whom I believe is in charge of the most difficult mission in the Saudi government: “Are you certain you can achieve this task?” His answer was practical as he simply told me to go myself to Saudi Arabia and attend one of these recreation events.

A week ago, I went to Riyadh to attend an entertainment show. It seems strange to travel from Dubai to Riyadh to watch a theatrical work. The three-floor theatre, which accommodates more than 2,000 people, was abuzz with joy and screams, the auditorium full of mostly young people who were there to watch ILUMINATE perform. This band performed several wonderful shows. It was a successful test that answered my questions such as: Will people accept them? Will it please their tastes?

Minister Ahmad al-Khatib is in charge of the Commission for Recreation and Culture which is tasked with introducing recreational programs to Saudi Arabia and developing them. When this commission was announced, many thought introducing recreation in Saudi Arabia was a task that would inevitably fail. This is justified considering the failure of previous attempts to execute projects which the private and public sectors tried to implement, as many of these projects were obstructed before they were even launched.

Khatib has been appointed as head of that commission for five months now. Although the legal procedure of establishing the commission and its structure hasn’t been finalized, the commission has announced an ambitious list of recreational events and activities it plans to hold and some of them have even exceeded people’s expectations and ended their doubts.

People’s dreams are limited to traveling to escape the difficult life in Saudi Arabia. Even attending football games in the kingdom is a difficult journey

Abdulrahman al-Rashed



Do not underestimate this task and the comprehensive and positive influences it may have especially on young people who represent more than 60 percent of the population. Do not underestimate its massive economic value as the money spent by Saudis who travel outside the kingdom for tourism exceeds $21 billion. This is in addition to the 10 million non-Saudis who cannot find a breathing space to spend their free time when they finish their working hours.

You can imagine how recreational, art and social events can change people’s lives. It’s not difficult to imagine half a million of Riyadh’s residents travelling on the weekend to the eastern region if means of tourism and recreation, better trains and comprehensive services are provided to them. It’s not difficult for playgrounds, theatres, squares and other recreational facilities to be full of millions of people - both citizens and residents - every month. Citizens and residents in Saudi Arabia fill recreational facilities in the countries they travel to across the world.

If we can achieve this, we will have changed for the best as emptiness and tension will decrease, the massive financial waste will come to an end and life will have a more beautiful meaning. People’s dreams are limited to traveling to escape the difficult life in Saudi Arabia. Even attending football games in the kingdom is a difficult journey and you must be a hardcore fan to tolerate the trouble of going to attend these games, and this is due to lack of services, mismanagement of football arenas and continuous chaos. In London, when I go watch a football game, I feel like I am going on a real trip and it’s truly a pleasure to those who love football despite the expensive price of tickets and the fans packing at the stadium.

Attending the ILUMINATE show in Riyadh was an important personal experience and I felt this through the children’s screams of joy. Although this is a small step, in it, I saw a new history being written and I sensed positive transition. To some, it may seem like a marginal issue or even a silly one as they are not aware of its importance to society that needs to open its doors to let the sun in. Doctor Ahmad said: “We are providing additional options to people. They don’t have to rush to the airport to travel outside the kingdom whenever there is a vacation. Our country deserves a lot from us."

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Oct. 12, 2016.

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.