Souk Okaz: A major fillip to youth empowerment


By Hassan Cheruppa

Saudi Gazette

The recently concluded Souk Okaz festival gave a major fillip to the Saudi government’s move to empower young Saudi men and women by ensuring their maximum participation in every detail of its meticulous organization.

On a tour to the Souk Okaz pavilions, Saudi Gazette saw, hundreds of young Saudis playing an excellent role in making the month-long event a resounding success. The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) organized the event in cooperation with a number of government agencies and departments.

The festival was part of the Taif Season titled “Taif: the Arab Resort” that saw involvement of as many as 1,500 young Saudis and creating 15,000 seasonal jobs, mainly for Saudis. Around 67 young Saudi men and women were instrumental in realizing the traditional heritage souk at the festival.

Zubayda Youssef Ghazali, senior visitor relations officer at the National Museum of Riyadh and who was in charge of the SCTA heritage pavilion at Souk Okaz, told Saudi Gazette that it is amazing to see a lot of young men and women among organizers of the event as well as actors on the stage.

“A large number of young Saudis, mainly university graduates, came enthusiastically to take part in all the activities and events of the festival. They were highly inspired from the initiative taken by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman to tap the huge potential of young Saudis,” she said.

“Young Saudis see the words of the visionary Crown Prince that sky is the limit for their ambitious galloping toward their empowerment, and we are happy to be part of this movement with determination and challenge to push for the future by employing all our energies,” she said.

Echoing in a similar vein, Muayyad Al-Saleh, first researcher of heritage and museum at the National Museum, shared his excitement over the huge presence of young Saudis at the souk.

Ghazali was delighted to see the huge number of visitors and their enthusiasm at the souk. “We had tremendous response with over 5,000 visitors to our pavilion alone on a daily basis. The pavilion showcases replicas of rare artifacts discovered from the most famous archeological sites in the Kingdom such as Qaryat Al-Faw, AlUla, Taimah and Najran,” she said noting that these are replicas of artifacts, which include heritage pieces of ancient incense route that are part of the Roads of Arabia.

“We are traveling to Italy, next destination of Roads of Arabia, with the original artifacts SCTA, in the next destination of Roads of Arabia Exhibition.

“Roads of Arabia Masterpieces of Antiquities in Saudi Arabia Across the Ages” Exhibition, organized by SCTH, is one of the most important international Saudi exhibitions that has already offered the civil heritage of the Kingdom and the Arabian Peninsula for more than five million visitors as part of the most prominent and prestigious international museums in European, American and Asian capitals and cities.

“The reactions are extremely tremendous as people are so amazed with the artifacts they happened to witness. We brought a smaller portion of Roads of Arabia to Souk Okaz to educate people about the cultural and humanitarian dimensions of KSA,” she said.

Fawt Al-Thubaiti, a young woman official at Riyadh office of SCTA, who received visitors at another stall of the commission said: “We are extremely delighted to get more opportunities for empowerment with a lot of chances for jobs and businesses. We focus on educating visitors about the significance of protection of environment and nature.”

The stall showcases stuffed animals and birds to make aware about them and ensuring protection of endangered species. “We educate visitors about our program titled “'Leave No Trace,” which is a national initiative of SCTA to develop responsible eco-tourism with practicing positive behaviors and refuse negative practices to preserve the environment.

Rameez Osama Al-Massri, a young Saudi official, who was the organizer of Moroccan Museum, part of pavilions of 11 Arab states, was happy to entertain a lot of visitors that thronged the museum. “It is amazing to see the keen interest shown by visitors to know the Moroccan culture very closer and watch the Moroccan artists drawing pictures and paintings in live shows in front of visitors,” he said.

This year’s 13th edition of Souk Okaz was a fantabulous experience, according to Sultan Mehmas Alroqi, programs director of Saudi Broadcasting Corporation. Alroqi, a post-graduate in IT, said that the new edition of the souk gave lots of opportunities for young Saudis, putting them in a unique environment with interaction of a confluence of cultures.

Azzam Al-Khudaidi of Jeddah Radio, who has been attending and covering the festival since three years, said that the festival’s organization was very nice and it is gratifying to see that most of the pavilions are run by young Saudis. “Now, you can see big changes and marvelous developments everywhere, amazing,” he said.

On his part, Osama Al-Ghuaibi of Jeddah Radio said: “You can witness more participation and empowerment of young women everywhere,” thanks to the initiatives under the dynamic leadership of the Crown Prince.

Yahya Al-Sharif and Saleh Al-Sharif, in traditional Saudi garb of a southern village, drew huge number of visitors to a pavilion of traditional huts. These young men from Taif were seen explaining to visitors about the traditional palm-frond huts known as Areesha where people in Jazan, Asir and other regions lived several decades ago.

Yahya Al-Talhi, an elderly citizen from Jeddah, was another attraction of the Souk. Wearing a green jacket with Kingdom’s logo, and pictures of King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman, he had been in the souk selling perfumes and rose water made of Taif roses all through the month-long festival.

Al-Talhi was extremely delighted to be in the company of young Saudi salesmen in making a profit in the stall of a Jeddah based rose water plant.