The Department of Studies and Research at the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue has conducted a survey entitled: “Coexistence within the Saudi society.” The survey targeted four geographical areas: the eastern region (Dammam, Hofuf, Al-Mubarraz and Al-Khobar), Medina, Mecca as well as Najran. According to the center’s website, the sample size of the survey covered 3,140 respondents.
Questions over survey sites
The study found out that 82% of the respondents believed that people should have freedom to embrace the faith of his or her own choice without compulsion. About 61% of the people stated they did not mind places of worship for people following different faiths and when it comes to religious beliefs, 81% affirmed that they viewed belief of other people within their cultural specificity. About 72% stated they respected the faith of others and approved of their right to worship in public spaces.
Despite the importance of this survey, there have been some mistakes in the approach, specifically regarding the selected areas as some cities have been excluded although it was important to include them in a research on a subject pertaining to religious and cultural diversity. These cities are Riyadh, Buraidah, Qatif, Jeddah, Abha and Ha’il.
The excluded cities are important because they have a large number of population as well as people of various Islamic sects, varied intellectual and cultural outlooks as well as a tribal and urban representation and economic and commercial weight.
The study did not focus on a minor issue, such as the opinion of the Saudi street on issues of aesthetics, but it focused on a major matter that lies at the core of the national transformation process, that is being witnessed by the Kingdom as part of the cultural change which work is underway to achieve. This transformation requires years and does not happen overnight and it requires collective efforts by several institutions including the society and education, religious and non-governmental institutions. What’s more important is the individual’s perspective towards the different others and their rights. This is a profound change that does not usually take place in a revolutionary or an abrupt way!
Objectivity and reliability
In principle, research studies are not public relations campaigns or a marketing program through which one can say that society has changed for the best when problems in fact persist. Neutrality, objectivity, credibility and accurate analysis are major factors for any study for without them a research work would not be complete and would remain flawed leading to imprecise results.
Knowing and measuring public opinion around a particular issue and its trends are quite essential in order for these institutions to be capable of providing an approximate, transparent and highly objective picture. These studies are intended to benefit government agencies and civil society organizations in order for them to construct future plans and know how to deal with current problems.
The efforts undertaken by the researchers at King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue are interesting but to be convincing to those concerned and following the change of the cultural and religious discourse, they must establish their results on sound basis which I think the researchers in this study have missed while determining their sample for study. Hence, the results come to portray an unrealistic view of a society that is struggling to get rid of the vestiges of the past and heal from them.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Hassan AlMustafa is Saudi journalist with interest in middle east and Gulf politics. His writing focuses on social media, Arab youth affairs and Middle Eastern societal matters. His twitter handle is @halmustafa.