New face of Saudi Arabia

European youth express fascination by progressive change in Saudi Arabia


Saudi Gazette

YOUTH from all over the world attending the Misk Global Forum this week said they witnessed a new face of Saudi Arabia during their stay here.

The participants attending the forum were selected based on their leadership roles in their own communities and high credentials.

Many of the participants Saudi Gazette spoke to expressed interest and a positive experience visiting Saudi Arabia. For many, it was their first time.

One European delegate, who preferred not to be named, said Saudi Arabia has been frequently making international headlines in the past couple of months with the series of changes and reforms by the new Saudi leadership. “We can definitely see the liberalization and progressive thinking,” he said. “The mixing and exchange between young people here is a big step.”

He added, “Abroad there’s still somewhat a negative image about Saudi Arabia. Events like this forum change our perception. In Europe, in particular, the number of Saudis living there are not many like in the US for example where there is a large number of scholarship students.”

Claudia Ciontu, a research fellow at the Middle East Political and Economic Institute from Romania, said she was curious to visit the Kingdom and had a positive experience. “It’s different than what the image is created from the outside,” she told Saudi Gazette. “The people are very respectful, friendly, and welcoming. It’s noticeable it’s in daily life not just to tourists.”

She added she hopes a tourist visa would be offered in the future.

A delegation from the Young European Leadership, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering young leaders and regularly travel around the world, participated in the forum.

John Loughton, a delegate, said he had few expectations and was open-minded about his trip to Saudi Arabia. “I was surprised at the motivation to start doing things differently,” he said. “There’s a willingness to innovate and partner with anyone around the world to win and succeed. It’s been fascinating to see.”

He added, “What excites me the most is the historic making of the future. There’s a level of ambition and idealism in the country that takes away any differences and is rather unifying.”

Amr Dawood, a delegate of the organization from Ireland, said he’s witnessed significant change since his last visit in 2004. “There’s so much progress and openness,” he said. “It’s impressive to see the young Saudis here wanting to better their community and make societal change. Attending such a forum gives an opportunity for us to see really cool stories of the individuals that nobody usually hears about.”

The Misk Global Forum, the largest in the region, was attended by young people from around the Kingdom as well as ambitious youth and entrepreneurs from various countries from Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia.

The event saw speeches by executives from Amazon, IBM, Google, and LinkedIn, among many others. A host of announcements were made, aiming to develop and empower young people to become active participants in the knowledge economy, across education, culture & the arts, creative digital media, and technology.

Participants also visited historic sites, tried traditional food and attending cultural performances.

Photos by Layan Damanhouri:

Delegates from the Young European Leadership

International youth visit Saudi Arabia and exchange ideas