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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


YouTube exposes Saudi life

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — The Arab Spring has yet to arrive in Saudi Arabia, and advocates face an uphill battle mobilizing an apathetic public that seems to accept the country’s all-powerful monarchy.

Now, however, young Saudi videographers are using YouTube to air a series of video reports that reveal the underside of life in the world’s biggest oil producer.

The narratives are compelling as they guide their audience through slums in the major cities, satirize the severe national housing shortage and ridicule the government’s failure to respond.

Judging from the number of times the videos have been viewed and the comments posted by embittered viewers, the muckraking venture is a hit. The biggest testament to its success, however, comes from the Saudi Interior Ministry: Days after “Poverty in Saudi Arabia,” the latest video, was uploaded to YouTube, the ministry detained reporter Feros Boqna and two colleagues, Hussam al Drewesh and Khaled al Rasheed, and held them for almost two weeks for questioning.

Since its posting, the Arabic version of “Poverty” has been viewed more than 1.5 million times. That would be equal to nearly one-tenth of Saudi Arabia’s population of 18 million.

“Wake me when the people take control over their own fate, when justice (is) spread without hindrance, when people say what is right without fear of punishment,” one commenter identified as Nour al Riadh posted. But the comment was soon removed and no new comments are allowed.

King Abdullah, 88, commands respect for his record of reforms and for his role as protector of Islam’s holiest places. The ruling House of Saud is closely tied to the Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam, which enforces Sharia religious law through the use of religious police, dominates public education and has fought to keep women in an inferior position.

But social grievances appear to be numerous and widespread, and, before they were removed from YouTube, some of the responses to “Poverty” criticized the king.

The video that landed its producers in trouble was part of a series called “Maloob Alayna,” which translates as, “We’ve been cheated.” It opens with Boqna saying to young Saudis in luxury cars, “If you are fine?” Each replies: “Then we are fine.” The camera then cuts to a slum where no one is fine.

The opening was a subtle poke at the King, who in the past has used the line: “If you are fine, we are fine!”

“These clips we are going to watch are not from Somalia. It’s in Saudi Arabia, in the Jarradiah neighborhood, less than five kilometers from the center of Riyadh,” says Boqna, who, judging from the video, is probably in his mid-20s. Efforts to reach him for an interview were unsuccessful.

One Saudi man he interviews has 11 children to feed and a net monthly income of $1,200, half of which goes to rent. The family has enough money left over only for flour and one meal a day. The imam at the local mosque reveals that i to raise money for the household, the parents send out young sons to sell drugs, and the women engage in prostitution.

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