Last month, Saudi Arabia cancelled the Jeddah Film Festival, sparking angry reactions by liberals and young bloggers craving for entertainment in a country where the Internet is censored, concerts and any mixing of unrelated men and women are banned.
“The impact on future plans is very negative to say the least,” said Saudi columnist Abdullah al-Alami.
“As Saudi Arabia is striving to promote both foreign investment opportunities and local tourism in the country, there are clear signs that these two objectives will not be achieved under the current circumstances,”he said.
Saudi Arabia has pledged to spend US$400 billion until 2013 to upgrade its infrastructure and has also launched a plan to build five economic and industrial cities to create new jobs.
Apart from the festival, a rock music concert in a compound in Riyadh was scrapped, while the religious police got access to private beaches in Jeddah, the most liberal city, blogs said.
“The youth are left feeling bitter and unwanted. Although they represent a large segment of our society, they have few options to pursue innocent fun,” Saudi daily Arab News wrote.
“No country for young men,” student Ahmed al-Omran wrote in his blog “Saudi jeans” discussing a lack of entertainment for single men, concluding: “Well, they will do other things that you probably will not like.”
“You can pamper the youth by giving cars or benefits but they will speak out at some point,” said a diplomat in Riyadh.
Efforts to lower the dependence on state jobs have been hampered by clerics’ resistance to overhaul school curricula.
“The government is aware of this problem and is trying to tackle it but it will take a long time and will require a root and branch overhaul of the education system,” said Paul Gamble, head of research at Saudi investment bank Jadwa Investment.
“Unemployment is a serious issue in the long term.” — Reuters