Youth Matters: Saudi Arabia's New National Vision For Young People
19 February 2014
By Mshari Al-Zaydi
We don't need statistics to tell us that Saudi Arabia
is a crowded place: all we need is to experience the
traffic jams that frustrate millions day after day in
Riyadh, Jeddah, Mecca or Dammam to testify to this
fact. In spite of the traffic cameras and the police
and the traffic cops and the checkpoints, you can
still see speed freaks on the roads of the Kingdom.
You can also see reckless fools, most of them
teenagers, doing great harm with their poor driving,
to themselves and to people who happen to be in their
But figures are a good tool for understanding this
congestion. The official numbers say that in 2012, the
population of Saudi Arabia was 29.2 million, 54
percent male and 46 percent female. The data also
shows that more than half the population resides in
two cities, Mecca and Riyadh. A part of the population
are youths aged 17 to 27, an age when people are full
of energy and vigor.
The question raised by this data is, inevitably, about
how to raise those young people well. Who can fill
their free time? Who can teach them values? How can we
give them a clear path to adulthood and the future?
Without a doubt, families must shoulder a large part
of this responsibility, emotionally, morally and
legally. But because the government is responsible for
the public sphere in a more general way, and because
it has the power to enact and enforce laws and hold
people accountable if they break them, it must also
shoulder part of this burden.
Our youth are often bored, so some create games to
amuse themselves that can sometimes become
destructive. These include dangerous driving, drugs,
and even extremism and religiously inspired terrorism.
I think all Gulf states, not just Saudi Arabia, are in
dire need of a real national plan to address the youth
issue. Instead of our young people being seen as a
burden, they should be viewed as a gift and an asset
to their countries and societies. That is why it was
very wise of the United Arab Emirates to make military
service obligatory, which they did recently.
It is a fact—not just empty sentiment—to say that
young people are the real wealth of society, and that
they should be the object of society's hopes and
dreams. It is true that the youth are impassioned, but
that passion must have a fence built around it to
temper its force and protect it against danger. Brig.
Gen. Ali Al-Rashidi, a spokesman for the Saudi Traffic
Department, told Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper recently that
24.6 percent of accidents involve excess speed, and
21.4 percent involve running a red light. Of the
people killed in these accidents, 72 percent are
youths. These are horrible figures.
Now is the time to address the youth issue as an
urgent cause. We must stop simply giving emotional
litanies about the correct administrative, scientific,
psychological and social approaches to raising our
youth—we don't need to reinvent the wheel. We don't
need religious or social sentiment, we need a real
working plan with multiple phases. Young people are
like wild horses, which injure themselves and others
if they are not led to the right path.
I believe now is the right time for a new national
vision for our young people, initiated by a special
ministry created solely to oversee their future.
A Saudi journalist and expert on
Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism as well
as Saudi affairs. Mshari is Asharq Al-Awsat's opinion
page Editor, where he also contributes a weekly
column. Has worked for the local Saudi press occupying
several posts at Al -Madina newspaper amongst others.
He has been a guest on numerous news and current
affairs programs as an expert on Islamic.