Forum opens up a window of ideas

Syed Faisal Ali | Arab News
Publication Date: 
Mon, 2009-01-12 03:00

JEDDAH: A group of 48 young men and women from Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom exchanged their views and experiences in an informal setting as part of the 2nd Saudi-British Youth Forum program at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry auditorium yesterday.

The session was co-hosted by Saudi poet Nimah Nawwab and Daniel Smith from the British side.

The British group visited Jeddah’s old quarters on Saturday and was overwhelmed with the city’s rich cultural heritage, distinguished planning and unique architecture.

The young Britons expressed surprise when they saw narrow alleys running north-south and east-west between buildings to allow sea winds to pass. The group also visited the historic Naseef House. One participant said the house, which has some 50 ornately decorated rooms on four floors, was a classic example of a traditional house. “It is full of exquisite workmanship beautifully restored,” he said.

The participants fondly narrated their experience of hearing the echoing calls to prayer for Maghreb from 36 mosques around Naseef House. “It was quite exhilarating, fulfilling and unique, a spiritual experience. The whole building was reverberating with the call for prayer,” said another participant.

He said what was noteworthy was that the area had been “rehabilitated and reintroduced into the fabric of everyday life without prolonging it as a museum, which would have meant its death. It has been brought to new life.”

The participants from both kingdoms wrote their experiences and impressions about the other. It was quite pleasing to note that their observations belied all stereotypes.

Daniel Smith, who is from the British Youth Council, said, “It was really satisfying and encouraging to witness the trust and faith these participants have for each other. This needs to be multiplied into our community to enhance inter-culture dialogue. The event has opened a window of new ideas. Confronting a different culture in a positive way is what these participants have learned here.”

Smith believes the participants would jointly develop projects on youth participation for knowing each other better. Nawwab echoed his views. “I firmly believe today’s youth are going to make the future different. The youth forum is a humble beginning to make the world a better place to live with the positive contributions from the younger generation,” she said.

Earlier on Saturday while welcoming participants to the “Bride of the Red Sea,” Arab News Editor in Chief Khaled Almaeena gave a clarion call for “dialogue with everyone” in the backdrop of ongoing conflicts. “We must know each other in a better way and interact regularly to fulfill our common aspirations and dispel myths,” he said.

One of the volunteers of the Youth Forum, Ghazi Binzagr, expressed satisfaction over its proceedings and outcome. “There are miles to go before we achieve our goals. But in two years this forum has done exemplary work in promoting people-to-people contact at youths’ level between Britain and Saudi Arabia. This was yet another milestone in the new found warmth in the centuries-old relationship between the countries, as it will provide a platform to Saudi and British communities to interact and enhance mutual understanding through youth exchange program to further strengthen their relationship,” he said.

Taking the objectives of the forum further, Omar A. Bahlaiwa, secretary-general of the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry, said, “After Sept. 11, 2001, Saudi Arabia was under attack from all sides and an urgent need was felt to initiate dialogue with the world community to put across our point of view... the idea of this forum is to bridge the gap between the two cultures. It’s aimed at changing the perspectives of the young generation about each other.”

Bahlaiwa said the forum was conceptualized in 2004 on a small level but soon the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal provided it an umbrella to take up its activities to a new height. “In 2007, we had the first forum in London. This is the second one. But we aim to organize it once a year alternatively in Saudi Arabia and Britain to maintain the momentum,” he said.

Saleh A. Bogary, another of the volunteers, said the Saudi group consists of carefully selected youths from across the Kingdom.

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