September 23, 2007


Frustrations Drive Saudi Youth to the Graffiti Wall: Young Men Protest Cultural Strictures (Faiza Saleh Ambah, 9/23/07, Washington Post)

Like many of his generation, Alwani, a slight 20-year-old with an Afro tinted volcano red, is buffeted between the Western culture piped into his life via satellite television and the Internet and the strict religious culture prevalent around him.

"I want graffiti walls like they have in the West. We need soccer fields and basketball courts in every neighborhood," said Alwani, who prefers low-riding jeans to the traditional white robe commonly worn here. "And I want to dress the way I want without people making fun of me."

Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy and one of the world's most socially repressive societies, also has one of the world's youngest populations, with more than 50 percent of its 22 million citizens younger than 21.

A strict form of Islam implemented by powerful clerics forces stores to close during the five daily prayers and forbids unrelated men and women to mingle in public. The result is that cinemas and theaters are banned, public schools are segregated beginning in first grade, women are not allowed to drive, and single men without female family members cannot enter most shopping malls.

Abo-Umara, the municipality official and a father of four, was criticized by colleagues for turning Alwani into a local celebrity instead of making an example out of him for vandals who have cost the city close to $1 million in graffiti cleanup.

But Abo-Umara, 45, said young men like Alwani should not be held accountable until officials are sure they've done right by local youth.

"What have we done for young people? Have we asked them what they need or want?" said Abo-Umara, wearing a flowing white head scarf and long robe. "Until I talk to them and find out why they are scribbling all over Jiddah and do my part in offering them the services we're supposed to provide, then I can't punish or criticize them."

True to his word, Abo-Umara held a two-day workshop called "What Do Youth Want From Jiddah?" in July, shortly after his meeting with Alwani. More than 200 young men and women attended, on separate days, and their list of demands included cinemas, public libraries, and music and art centers.

The young women asked for private beaches for women and girls, for at least widows and divorced women to be permitted to drive, and for boys who harass them to be fined.

Both groups requested sports facilities, of which there are very few in Saudi Arabia.

Abo-Umara was able to implement one demand immediately: walls dedicated to graffiti.

Al Qaeda isn't wrong that their enemy is the penetration of their lands by our culture. They're just wrong to think they can resist it.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 23, 2007 9:11 AM

AQ might be better able to resist it if they had something to offer other than a sneaking life and a meaningless, early death.

Posted by: Brandon at September 23, 2007 11:57 AM