Saudi Arabia is promoting its cultural heritage and national pride, moving away from its conservative past. With a young population, the aim is to shape the country’s future by uniting Saudis through their cultural identity. The government is investing in the national coffee industry and neutralizing religious authorities to pave the way for a more balanced society.
Saudi Arabia, a country that has long been associated with its vast oil reserves and conservative form of Islam, is undergoing a significant transformation. In recent years, the country has been shifting its focus towards promoting its cultural heritage and fostering national pride, marking a departure from its conservative past.
When King Abdulaziz unified the country in the 1930s, he brought together distinct communities in an area the size of Western Europe. A large proportion of the population was tribal, for whom nationhood was an alien concept. In the following decades, a sense of national identity began to emerge. For example, the creation of the Saudi Arabian Football Federation and the national team’s success in international competition was one of the initiatives that gave the population a sense of national unity.
Today’s strong emphasis on culture and heritage represents a vision for the country’s future, one that seeks to foster a sense of national identity based on more than just its economic power. The recognition of the Khawlani coffee bean as part of Saudi Arabia’s “intangible cultural heritage” by the United Nations is just one of many steps that the country has taken towards this goal.
The Khawlani coffee bean has been a staple in the country for centuries and is an essential part of Saudi Arabia’s heritage. The United Nations’ recognition of the coffee bean as part of Saudi Arabia’s culture is a significant achievement for the country, which has been striving to cultivate a sense of national pride in this iconic bean. As part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s plan, Vision 2030, the year 2022 was declared the “Year of Saudi Coffee,” with the government planning to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into the national coffee industry over the next decade.
But the focus on heritage is not the only significant change that Saudi Arabia has been experiencing in recent years. The Crown Prince’s efforts to reshape the national identity aim to promote a more balanced society, which includes the neutralization of religious police, the mutawas, who have been stripped of their enforcement powers and instead directed towards awareness campaigns. This is intended to reduce their interference in public life and to promote a more tolerant and open society.
Another significant change has been the rapid expansion of the Ministry of Culture, with 11 commissions now working to promote Saudi traditions in music, film, visual arts, museums, theatres, and fashion. Saudi Arabia’s contributions to the U.N.’s “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” have grown to 11, including a type of dance, falconry, and an indigenous species of cat.
With two-thirds of the country’s 36 million people under 35, the population is young and eager to see change. The gap in their standard of living compared to their regional counterparts, particularly within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), mainly the UAE and Qatar, has become increasingly apparent. The disparity in terms of entertainment possibilities, lifestyle, transportation options, recreational activities, and dining opportunities has left many feeling left behind.
The recent efforts to instil national pride in Saudi Arabia’s heritage and culture represent a significant change in the country’s direction. The promotion of cultural heritage, investment in the coffee industry, and neutralization of religious authorities all represent a significant shift away from the country’s conservative past. With a young population eager for change, it will be interesting to see how this new emphasis on culture and heritage will shape the future of Saudi Arabia.