Changed Identities: The Challenge of the New Generation in Saudi Arabia

By Bahgat, Gawdat | The Middle East Journal, Autumn 2000 | Go to article overview

Changed Identities: The Challenge of the New Generation in Saudi Arabia


Bahgat, Gawdat, The Middle East Journal


Changed Identities: The Challenge of the New Generation in Saudi Arabia, by Mai Yamani. London: The Royal Institute of International Affairs, 2000. xxii + 149 pages. Append. to p. 165. Bibl. to p. 170. $19.95 paper.

Saudi Arabia contains more than one-fourth of global proven oil reserves, and is the world's leading oil producer, exporter, and holder of spare oil production capacity. Thus, strategically and economically, the Kingdom occupies a central place on the world stage. The international community demonstrated its strong commitment to the security of Saudi Arabia during the 1991 Gulf War, as well as in its aftermath. Accordingly, many students of Saudi policy argue that Riyadh is, relatively speaking, secure from external threats and that the main challenge is internal stability. For the past several years, the Kingdom has confronted serious questions regarding its socio-economic and political development. These include a rising unemployment rate, a mismatch between the educational system and the labor market, a "gender gap," the succession question, and many others. Given the conservative nature of Saudi society and values, most of the literature addressing these important questions has been carried out by Western scholars. In other words, the literature available on the Kingdom does not provide enough information on how Saudis, themselves, feel about these issues. This is exactly what makes Mai Yamani's work a valuable contribution to the understanding of the changes taking place in Saudi society.

As a Saudi woman with extensive training in Western social science, Yamani is positioned to present a unique perspective of how young Saudi men and women interact with the current changes in their society. According to Yamani, the Saudi population can be divided into three generations: the first, consisting of those who were born in the 1930s, when the Kingdom was united and created as a nation state; the second, made up of those who were born in the 1950s and who, in their adulthood, experienced the oil boom; and the third, who, born in the 1970s and 1980s, have had to deal with the severe fluctuations of oil prices and unprecedented exposure to Western media and values. …

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