Social Arabia: social media is transforming the lives of young people in Saudi Arabia, one of the most conservative societies in the world.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

For many young Saudis, life is all about their apps.

They don't have free speech, so they debate on "Twitter.

They can't flirt at the mall, so they do it on WhatsApp and

Snapchat. Since women are banned from driving, they get rides from car

services like Uber and Careem. And in a country where shops close for

Muslim prayers five times a day, there are apps that not only issue a

call to prayer from your pocket but also calculate whether you can

reach, say, the nearest Dunkin' Donuts before it shuts.

Confronted with an austere version of Islam and rigid social codes

that sharply restrict their lives, young people in Saudi Arabia are

increasingly relying on social media to express themselves, make money,

and even meet potential spouses.

Many of the country's 31 million people, in fact, have

multiple smartphones and spend hours online each day. This explosion of

digital communication has been revolutionary because it's taking

place in one of the world's most tradition-bound places.

"On one level, it looks like any modern city," says Janet

Breslin Smith, who lived in the capital, Riyadh, for five years when her

husband was the U.S. ambassador. "But as your eyes gaze down to

people walking, it almost takes you back to biblical times. People are

dressed as they have for thousands of years."

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

One of the most powerful nations in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia

is an important U.S. ally in the region. Its influence comes from two

factors: It has more than 25 percent of the world's known oil

reserves; and it's the birthplace of Islam and the guardian of its

two most sacred sites, in Mecca and Medina.

A strict fundamentalist interpretation of Islam known as Wahhabism

governs all aspects of life, with the Koran and the teachings of the

Prophet Muhammad effectively serving as a constitution.

Unrelated men and women are completely segregated from one another.

Girls and boys attend separate schools, and separate classes in college.

Females must wear black head-to-toe coverings called abayas in public

once they hit puberty. When they go out, they must be accompanied by a

male relative. Religious police zealously enforce these rules, arresting

and sometimes flogging violators.

Some Freedom on Twitter

The nation is a near-absolute monarchy led by King Salman, a member

of the Al Saud family that has ruled Saudi Arabia since 1932. A push for

reform resulted in local council elections being held for the first time

in 2005, but the councils are largely symbolic and have no real power.

Women, who in recent years have been pushing for basic rights like

driving, will be allowed to vote in local elections this month (see

"A Push for Women's Rights," p. 10).

But it's technology rather than political reform that's

rocking the conservative culture of Saudi Arabia.

The nation has the ideal conditions for a social media boom: speedy

Internet, disposable income from oil wealth, and a youthful

population--more than half of Saudis are under age 30--with few social

options. Unlike China and Iran, Saudi Arabia hasn't blocked sites

like Facebook and Twitter, although it doesn't tolerate commentary

against the government or Islam. The Saudi monarchy appears to have

decided that the benefits of social media as an outlet for young people

outweigh the risk that it will be used to mobilize political opposition.

For now, some of the biggest changes brought by technology have

been in how young Saudis find a spouse. In a society where dating--or

even friendship between boys and girls--is forbidden, marriages have

long been arranged by families. In fact, most Saudi girls have

traditionally met their husbands for the first time when they became

engaged. Now, social media is enabling romance to spring up without

violating traditions outright.

When Raqad Alabdali, a conservative 22-year-old from a Riyadh

suburb, made some melancholy posts Best Insulated Water Bottles on Twitter not long ago, a man she

didn't know responded to her with a private message. They were soon

messaging constantly.

"He kept checking on me to make sure I wasn't sad

anymore, and then we tweeted with each other daily," she says.

They exchanged phone numbers for an occasional call, and she

eventually sent him a photo of herself unveiled, in a white dress with

bare shoulders and eye makeup on her face. He said he wanted to marry

her, so his mother called hers. The couple is planning a family meeting

to make then-engagement formal, Alabdali says. It will be their first

time in the same room.

"I don't have any doubt that he'll marry me or is

serious about me," she says. Why so sure? Her older brother and his

wife met on Facebook.

'A Window to the Outside World'

The boom in social media has also created opportunities for young

Saudi entrepreneurs. Ali Kalthami is in charge of content for a company

called Telfazll, which produces comedy videos for YouTube. The company

now employs more than 30 people and has branched out into commercials,

games, and talent management for its actors.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"A lot of people are stuck to their phones--and really bored,

" says Kalthami.

In a country where movie theaters are banned, YouTube and Internet

streaming have provided an escape from the censors and a way to see

what's going on beyond Saudi Arabia's borders.

"Everything to do with technology is a window to the outside

world," says Hoda Abdulrahman al-Helaissi, a female member of the

Shura Council, an advisory body appointed by the king.

But technology hasn't brought Westernstyle liberalization.

Many young Saudis remain committed to and proud of their culture, and

religious conservatives use social media as adeptly as liberals.

And the power of social media is limited in a society lacking

political rights. The Saudi monarchy takes a hard line against dissent,

doling out punishments viewed as barbaric in the democratic world. For

participating in antigovernment protests three years ago, Ali al-Nimr,

20, was sentenced to a public beheading. Raif Badawi, a young blogger

who called for women's rights and freedom of speech, is serving 10

years behind bars; he's also been sentenced to a flogging of 1,000

lashes.

But most young Saudis are challenging the status quo in more subtle

ways. For Haya al-Fahad, 27, social media has become her livelihood. She

quit her first job Best Insulated Water Bottles after graduating from college because one-third of

her pay went to the driver she needed to get to and from work.

She now works from home, making bracelets she sells online. That

gives her more time to manage her three Facebook pages, three Instagram

accounts, and two Twitter feeds.

"This is my identity," she says, waving her smartphone.

"I don't know how people survived 10 years ago without

it."

Ben Hubbard covers the Middle East for The New York Times;

additional reporting by Patricia Smith.

Saudi Arabia BY THE NUMBERS

51 million

Number of cellphone subscriptions; the country's population is

31 million.

46%

Percentage of the population under age 25, compared with 32 percent

in the U.S.

10%

Unemployment rate, compared with 5 percent in the U.S.

2.4 million

Number of Twitter users-- 40 percent of the total in the Middle

East.

SOURCES: SAUDI ARABIA'S COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

TECHNOLOGY COMMISSION; POPULATION REFERENCE BUREAU; STATISTA; BBC

RELATED ARTICLE: A push for women's rights.

Women will vote for the first time this month, but what they really

want is to get behind the wheel

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

On paper, it looks like a sea change for women's rights in

Saudi Arabia: For the first time ever, women will be allowed to vote in

municipal elections this month.

But in reality, experts say, it probably won't make much

difference. For starters, municipal elections in Saudi Arabia

aren't very important since local elected officials have little

power.

And even if the elections mattered more, many women won't be

able to register to vote or get to the polls in a nation where

they're not allowed to drive.

Despite small steps forward, Saudi women are still denied basic

rights that women in other countries take for granted. Under the Saudi

interpretation of Islamic law, a woman's testimony in court

doesn't carry the same weight as a man's. Saudi women need

written permission from a male relative to enroll at a university, to

marry, to have medical procedures, and to leave the country or even

apply for a passport.

"For the entire course of your life, you have to have a man to

give you permission to do basic aspects of your life," says Rothna

Begum, a Saudi Arabia expert at Human Rights Watch in London.

This system affects all aspects of life--and severely limits the

impact of any political reforms. For example, the government has said

that women may run in the municipal elections, but they can't

interact with unrelated men. How can they run for office without

speaking to potential voters?

It's the ban on driving that's troubled Saudi women the

most and drawn the most attention worldwide. Saudi Arabia is the only

country in the world that prohibits women from driving. The

kingdom's ultraconservative clerics say allowing women to drive

would promote "licentiousness." Several years ago, Saudi

activists launched a campaign to lift the ban: Women got behind the

wheel and posted videos of themselves driving as a protest.

Last year, a royal advisory council recommended lifting the

ban--though only for women over 30 who have permission from a male

relative to drive. So far, no action has been taken.

But there's evidence that younger Saudi women are finding

other ways to assert themselves. Excluded from an all-male convention of

computer gamers in Riyadh, a bunch of 20-something Saudi women organized

their own computer gaming convention in 2012. It has drawn 3,000 women

annually.

--Patricia Smith

LESSON PLAN 1: close reading

INTERNATIONAL PAGES 8-11

Lexile level: 1175L

Lower Lexile level (available online): 980L

Social Arabia

A social media boom is rocking the conservative culture of Saudi

Arabia by allowing young people to mingle, find spouses, and express

themselves without violating strict religious and social codes.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Before Reading

1 List Vocabulary: Share with students the challenging general and

domain-specific vocabulary in this article. Encourage them to use

context clues to infer meanings as they read and to later verify those

inferences by consulting a dictionary. If desired, distribute or project

the Word Watch activity to guide students through this process.

2 Engage: Ask students to describe how they use social media and to

name other countries where they think social media use is popular. Ask

whether they'd include Saudi Arabia.

austere

barbaric

fundamentalist

liberalization

mobilize

zealously

Additional Resources upfrontmagazine.com

Print or project:

* Word Watch (infer word meanings)

* Up Close: Social Arabia (close reading)

** Article Quiz (also on p. 8 of this Teacher's Guide)

* Analyze the Graph (also on p. 11 of this Teacher's Guide)

Video: Love in Saudi Arabia

Analyze the Article

3 Read: Have students read the article, marking the text to note

key ideas or questions.

4 Discuss: Distribute or project the close-reading activity Up

Close: Social Arabia for students to work on in small groups. (Note: The

questions on the PDF also appear on the facing page of this

Teacher's Guide, with possible responses.) Follow up with a class

discussion. If you're short on time, have each group tackle one or

two of the questions. Collect students' work or have each group

report its findings to the class.

Extend & Assess

5 Writing Prompt

How do you think your everyday life compares with that of a Saudi

teen? Write a brief essay, using evidence from the article to support

your claims.

6 Classroom Debate

Defend your view: As an ally of Saudi Arabia, should the United

States do more to encourage that country to grant its women greater

freedoms? Why or why not?

7 Quiz

Photocopy or project the article quiz (p. 8 of this Teacher's

Guide).

8 Graph

Analyze a graph on social media use in selected nations, including

Saudi Arabia (p. 11 of this Teacher's Guide).

* Summarize the author's purpose in the first three paragraphs

of the article.

Author's purpose, text structure

(The author's purpose is to introduce the central idea that

Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islamic law and rigid

social codes do not keep young Saudis from enjoying social media. In

fact, the rigid culture may even give young people more reason to use

social media apps. The author notes, for example, "They can't

flirt at the mall, so they do it on WhatsApp and Snapchat. ")

* Use evidence from the text to explain why social media use has

become so widespread in Saudi Arabia.

Analyze cause & effect, cite text evidence

(Saudi Arabia has oil wealth, so citizens have disposable income

they can use to buy cellphones and other devices. The country has

"speedy Internet ... and a youthful population" with "few

social options." In addition, its monarchy has decided not to block

social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. All of these factors have

contributed to the country's social media explosion.)

* How does the author support the claim that "some of the

biggest changes brought by technology have been in how young Saudis find

a spouse"?

Analyze authors' claims

(The author explains that dating is forbidden in Saudi Arabia, so

families have traditionally arranged marriages. But with social media,

young people are meeting online and getting to know each other before

discussing marriage. He writes, "social media is enabling romance

to spring up without violating traditions outright. " He then goes

on to describe how one couple met via social media.)

* In the article, Hoda Abdulrahman al-Helaissi, a female adviser to

the king, says that technology is a "window to the outside

world." What do you think she means, and why might Saudi Arabia

need such a window?

Make inferences

(Al-Helaissi means that technology gives Saudis a chance to see

what's going on outside of their own country. Movie theaters are

banned, so Saudis are rarely exposed to other cultures. However, social

media, YouTube, and some other forms of contemporary technology are not

restricted.)

* Predict whether social media will lead to democratic reforms in

Saudi Arabia in Best Insulated Water Bottles the next 10 years. Support your response with evidence

from the text.

Make inferences, cite text evidence

(Responses will vary but should be supported with text evidence.

Students may argue that reform is unlikely because the Saudi monarchy

continues to aggressively punish dissenters. In addition, "Many

young Saudis remain committed to ... their culture, and religious

conservatives use social media as adeptly as liberals." Other

students may argue that reform will come soon because social media

allows Saudis to see how things can be, and because women have begun

pushing for rights.)

* Read the sidebar, "A Push for Women's Rights."

What does it add to your understanding of Saudi Arabia?

Integrate multiple sources

(The sidebar illustrates just how restricted women are in Saudi

Arabia. It notes that although women have recently earned the right to

vote in municipal elections, these elected positions hold little power.

What's more, Saudi women are still not allowed to drive and must

have a man's permission to do almost anything.)

QUIZ

Social Arabia

Choose the best answer for each of the following questions.

CHECK COMPREHENSION

1. According to the article, a main reason for Saudi Arabia's

influence in the Middle East is

a its vast oil reserves.

b its Western-style government.

c its alliance with China.

d its booming manufacturing industry.

2. Laws in Saudi Arabia are largely based on

a a 250-year-old democratic constitution.

b the Koran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.

c the whims of the near-absolute monarch, King Salman.

d none of the above

3. Which of these is NOT one of the rules that women in Saudi

Arabia must live by?

a They must be accompanied by a male relative when outside the

home.

b They must wear a head-to-toe covering when in public.

c They may not drive a vehicle.

d They may not attend college or work outside the home.

4. Which statement best describes the Saudi Arabian

government's stand on social media?

a It blocks most social media sites, including Facebook.

b It permits use of social media sites but is quick to crack down

on anti-government commentary.

c It embraces social media as a tool for Westernization.

d It has created its own social media sites that are in keeping

with Islamic teachings.

ANALYZE THE TEXT

5. Which of these is NOT a central idea of the article?

a Some Saudis are meeting spouses on social media.

b Some Saudis are using social media to make money.

c Social media is bringing democratic liberalization to Saudi

Arabia.

d Social media is giving Saudis a window to the outside world.

6. Which conclusion can you draw from the article?

a Saudi Arabia is on the verge of a religious civil war.

b The Saudi economy is built on the technology industry.

c Islam as practiced in Saudi Arabia is more rigid than in many

Muslim countries.

d Saudi Arabia is slowly moving away from Islamic law.

7. Select the sentence from the text that best supports your answer

to question 6.

a "The nation has the ideal conditions for a social media boom

..."

b "Many young Saudis remain committed to and proud of their

culture ..."

c "A strict fundamentalist interpretation of Islam known as

Wahhabism governs all aspects of life."

d "... it's the birthplace of Islam and the guardian of

its two most sacred sites, in Mecca and Medina."

8. The author mentions that movie theaters are banned in Saudi

Arabia to show

a that social media isn't the only banned media.

b that Saudis have little interest in Western pop culture.

c one reason Saudis are flocking to the Internet.

d one reason young Saudis are leaving the country.

IN-DEPTH QUESTIONS Please use the other side of this paper for your

responses.

9. What kind of changes has social media brought to Saudi Arabia so

far?

5

10. The author writes that "the power of social media is

limited in a society lacking political rights." What do you think

he means, and do you agree?

ANSWER

1. [a] its vast oil reserves.

2. [b] the Koran and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad.

3. [d] They may not attend college or work outside the home.

4. [b] It permits use of social media sites but is quick to crack

down on anti-government commentary.

5. [c] Social media is bringing democratic liberalization to Saudi

Arabia.

6. [c] Islam as practiced in Saudi Arabia is more rigid than in

many Muslim countries.

7. [c] "A strict fundamentalist interpretation of Islam known

as Wahhabism governs all aspects of life."

8. [c] one reason Saudis are flocking to the Internet.

GRAPH

Who's the Most Social?

You may think you and your friends spend a lot of time on Snapchat,

Twitter, and WhatsApp, but check out the graph at right. It turns out

that people in a number of other countries use social media more than

people in the United States do. One of the countries where users spend a

lot of time on social media is ultraconservative Saudi Arabia, where

social media sites allow young people to express themselves and interact

online--in contrast to the rigid religious and social codes that govern

their everyday, "nondigital" lives (see article, p. 8).

This bar graph shows the amount of time social media users spend on

social media each day in selected countries. It also includes a global

average for social media use.

[GRAPHIC OMITTED]

ANALYZE THE GRAPH

1. Social media users in Saudi Arabia spend about--hours a day on

social media.

a 2.7

b 3.0

c 3.2

d 3.4

2. Social media users in the U.S. spend more time on social media

than users in --.

a China

b Mexico

c South Africa

d all of the above

3. According to the graph, the global average for time users spend

on social media each day is--.

a 2 hours

b 2 hours, 5 minutes

c 2 hours, 25 minutes

d 3 hours

4. The time users spend on social media in Argentina is about--.

a double the time spent in Canada

b triple the time spent in Japan

c equal to the time spent in Malaysia

d none of these

5. Which conclusion can you draw from the graph?

a Social media use is starting to drop.

b Social media is used across many continents.

c People in Spain spend little time on social media.

d all of the above

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. Argentina currently has more people ages 15 to 24 than it's

had at any other time in its history. How might that "youth

bubble" be connected to the data you see on the graph?

2. Aside from the age demographics of a nation's population,

what factors might affect the popularity of social media in a country?

Why?

3. What's one thing you find surprising or interesting about

the graph? Why does this grab your attention?

ANSWER KEY

1. [b] 3.0

2. [a] China

3. [c] 2 hours, 25 minutes

4. [a] double the time spent in Canada

5. [b] Social media is used across many continents.

http://www.thefreelibrary.com/SocialArabia:socialmediaistransformingthelivesofyoungpeople...-a0437505687