Is our society changing too fast?
While everyone was predicting the annual dispute between conservatives and moderates to be on the usual battleground of the Riyadh Book Fair, it seems that Al-Janadriyah Heritage Festival became the new victim this year to the ongoing struggle for change and development.
Since the political unification of Saudi Arabia in 1932, almost four generations of Saudi social history have come to existence. The first two generations lived through the formation of the state and experienced the manifestation of the oil economy boom and welfare, but was not that much concerned with the slowly emerging social changes.
It was only through the third generation, around the end of the 1970s, that Saudi society started feeling the pressure and disgruntlement from some members of the community, who saw that the path of modernity adopted by the state is not the kind of change they would accept and aspire to. In fact, an incident that shook the country, the shocking raid of Makkah’s holy mosque by the Islamist militant Juhayman Alotaibi, was considered a disturbing sign of confrontations to come.
After that, Saudi Arabia’s progress toward modernity moved in a very slow and gradual pace through simple means, such as the newly developed media and the opportunity to travel abroad. Foreign workers and consultants started coming to the Kingdom to fill the labor gap without making a major disturbance to the social equation.
But perhaps what changed the speed of cultural change back again was the acceleration in economic shifts. The dramatic drift from a state driven economic society to a more open and free economy has left a strong social impact by losing much of the security provided by state care.
By losing the inherited sense of stability and security of a patriarchal economy, many Saudis started blaming foreign workers and western countries for their misfortunes. There were strong demands for hasty Saudization plans and the call for independence from the control of international organizations, rather than finding remedies in adopting more flexible modifications.
After much delay in the third generation’s social development, the young Saudi generation finds itself facing far more accelerating social changes. However, family values shaped by religion and traditions are securely enveloped in what can be described as a time capsule, and keeps us at bay from total change and outside influences.
Many young Saudis became aware that they are responsible for creating more autonomy for themselves — to bypass the inherited problems of delaying much needed social change. This has to happen so they can pursue the goals that their education abroad and various life experiences have led them to expect. But while some believe they are changing too fast and in the wrong direction, many others feel that society is not changing fast enough for them.