Saudi Arabia and the refreshing path to recreation

During his recent US tour, Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launched a refreshing and beneficial path by reaching a deal with a giant American entertainment company. He met Six Flags President and CEO Jim Reid to discuss means of cooperation. Reid voiced his enthusiasm to contribute to the entertainment industry in Saudi Arabia.

The meeting came after Saudi King Salman announced the establishment of a committee for recreation in May. Recreation is not a mere accessory for people and society, but a need, just like food, water, housing and clothing. Recreation’s significance lies in its ability to improve economic activity, provide jobs and create room for healthy openness.

Recreation is not a mere accessory for people and society, but a need, just like food, water, housing and clothing

Mshari Al Thaydi

Historical examples

Photos taken from the era of Saudi Arabia’s foundation by historians and travelers document that there was entertainment according to the culture of that time. An example is photos of Najdi folklore, and in which Saudi Arabia’s founder King Abdulaziz is seen raising his sword as he took part in the traditional Arda dance, or war dance, during a public event.

In his book “Recreation in Saudi society in the era of King Abdulaziz,” Saudi researcher Abdullah bin Nasser al-Sadhan said the culture of recreation existed during the era of King Abdulaziz in several Saudi cities. For example, in Makkah, Jeddah and Medina, song and dance incorporated the popular mizmar, an oboe-like woodwind instrument.

There were also men reading out “One Thousand and One Nights” and Antarah ibn Shaddad’s biography in public cafes in exchange for money. The first sports game known in Hejaz was tennis. In Makkah and Taif, a famous horse race was held in honor of Prince and Viceroy of Hejaz - and later King - Faisal bin Abdulaziz.

Weekly horse races were held in Riyadh under the patronage of King Abdulaziz, and sometimes under Deputy Crown Prince - and later King - Saud bin Abdulaziz. Instructor Ahmad al-Kathemi talked about the Arda dance and games in Riyadh in his diaries. There was also recreational activity in the east. For example, King Abdulaziz attended a football game between Al-Ittihad and a Somali football club when he visited the region.

Recreation’s presence during the era of the kingdom’s foundation is self-evident.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on June 22, 2016.


Saudi journalist Mshari Al Thaydi presents Al Arabiya News Channel’s “views on the news” daily show “Maraya.” He has previously held the position of a managing senior editor for Saudi Arabia & Gulf region at pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Al Thaydi has published several papers on political Islam and social history of Saudi Arabia. He appears as a guest on several radio and television programs to discuss the ideologies of extremist groups and terrorists.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:51 - GMT 06:51
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