Saudi National Identity needs to be preserved… and developed

Clock Icon May 15, 2024
A picture that reveals some of Saudi heritage.

A picture that reveals some of Saudi heritage.

The gradual changes that Saudi Arabia has undergone in the last decade have shaken the very roots of its society. Although many of these changes are progressive, there is a danger of losing fundamental Saudi societal values in the exciting mood of possibility they’ve encouraged. A conference on national identity can bring balance. 

Today Riyadh hosts a conference on “Saudi National Identity.’’ Many Saudis may wonder why we need to define our identity. We have one, don’t we? We are Saudis. Asking family and friends about Saudi identity and they all gave similar answers - oil, heritage, desert, food.

National identity is defined as a sense of a country as a cohesive whole, represented by distinctive traditions, culture, and language. That’s not at the expense of diversity, by the way, it’s more a way of defining and celebrating commonalities and shared understandings. Saudis, however, never learned or understood this cohesive whole. Now, it’s about time they did.

It was inevitable that the changes that came with modernisation in Saudi Arabia would have had an impact on identity. The increasing exposure to international influences via technology and media opened many doors.

Saudi Arabia has diversified beyond oil, leading to a more dynamic economy focused on emerging industries such as tourism and technology. That meant socially, Saudi society also to deal with internal changes to meet the external challenges that would inevitably come with welcoming more new concepts. Yet existing societal norms were more conservative, emphasizing adherence to rules that no longer made sense.

The doors opened for Saudis, bringing a fresh breath of excitement, belonging and optimism. They allowed for a growing interest in many new fields such as arts, music, and cinema, reflecting a more expressive and culturally diverse identity compared to the past.

In schools students are learning about Saudi Arabian history and geography just like past generations did. In recent years, though, two subjects were added  - KSA and social studies - that helped to complete the picture of Saudi Arabia with all components and not only from a limited perspective.

A conference like this is timely. For many Saudis, the lifestyle of today became possible by leaving aspects of the past behind, as it seemed like everything from the past was hindering today's success. However, that is not entirely true; some aspects of tradition and culture from the past are what Saudis use to define themselves today. Hospitality, for example, is a key part of Saudi Arabia's identity, emphasizing their love for hosting guests.

Hopefully, this conference can identify everything that defines a Saudi, including past traditional and cultural practices, and provide a modern framework for Saudis to embrace in a healthy manner and build their future in their own way. It's an opportunity to reflect on Saudi heritage and integrate it into a progressive vision for the future.

The cohesive all.

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