Saudi Arabia's al-Janadriyah and years of intellectual debate

Abdulrahman al-Rashed
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Some people expected the Al-Janadriyah cultural and heritage festival – which marks its 30th year this year – to come to an end, particularly following the death of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz. However, the festival has become so well-entrenched now that it is being held under the auspices of King Salman.

So why is Al-Janadriyah important? It is important because it is part of our modern cultural history. This Saudi multicultural forum gives us a glimpse of the last three decades during which different political and cultural events have unfolded.


It is not an exaggeration to say that during these 30 years, the forum has played a significant role in producing different ideas in the conservative Saudi kingdom and thus provided material for discussions and seminars during the forum.

Of course, sometimes the festival have not been able to keep up with intellectual debates, which implied that there is controversy surrounding the forum and the society itself. This is normal considering the times during which these controversies have surfaced.

Most of the Al-Janadriyah festivals have been distinguished for being an arena for ideological and political discussions held in an atmosphere of openness

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Most of the Al-Janadriyah festivals have been distinguished for being an arena for ideological and political discussions held in an atmosphere of openness. They have opened the door for others to voice their views.

Over the years, the festival has witnessed several rounds of ideological discussions, attended by intellectuals. These participants often included those who are prohibited from entering the kingdom such as communists and extremist Islamists. These figures have also included westerners, Russians, Iranians or Arabs who are politically opposed to the Saudi state.

No topics have been off limits as Sahwa movements, modernity, end of history, relations with others and modern political and doctrinal controversies have often come up for discussion. As a result of this, many figures have come into spotlight during the festivals’ events. Some of these figures were prohibited from entering the country; however, exceptions have been made to host them.

Cultural bridge

Al-Janadriyah has played an important role in shaping the relations of the Saudi elite, and those who are interested in its culture, with other figures. It has facilitated exchange of ideas. They have influenced others and got influenced in the process.

The festival may have given the impression of being a propaganda project in the beginning but has over the years turned into a significant platform for political and cultural activities. Since some people were not used to the dose of bravery the festival offered, they sought to restrain it. However, this bravery has gone on. Some tried to limit the festival to entertainment and folkloric activities but its programs continued to include different ideas.

Al-Janadriyah is more than an annual forum and festival as it has played a significant role in bridging the gap. Now that it has marked its 30th year, it deserves to turn into a permanent institution that holds different events taking into account the changes taking place in the kingdom and the region.

Saudi Arabia needs to become a center of dialog and intellectual development. This is what the Arab Peninsula was known for and this is what has distinguished its history. It is not possible to achieve development without having space for discussion of ideas and holding of dialog with people from across the world.

Al-Janadriyah has created a real opportunity to celebrate the heritage of the kingdom’s citizens. It has become a museum where millions of citizens visit to recall their history, which is otherwise about to be forgotten due to the fast pace of life.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Feb. 14, 2016.
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.

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