culture, discussion, Gender, Observation From Inside, Politics, reflection

Saudi Arabia With No Makeup

I watched recently the MTV episode “Resist the Power! Saudi Arabia.” The episode represents an inside story of young Saudi: Fatima who fights to change the traditional clothing of Saudi women,  Ahmed who fights for women rights, Aziz who wants to date and see his girlfriend with no fear, and finally the music’s group who want the freedom to play their music and songs in public.

My thoughts of the episode:

  • First of all, the episode is more for an entertainment than for a documentary purpose.
  • I think the young Saudi in the episode represent their individual perceptions and observations of Saudi society which is open for a discussion and debate.
  • It is impossible to make a realistic judgment about any society or religion based on small selective groups of people, or blogs or news.
  • There is no diversity in the participants of the episode. They are all from Jeddah. They are all against the tradition or the society.
  • I think there is a mixed understanding between what is religious and what is traditional in Saudi society. I think the presenters themselves weren’t sure about where to drew the line between religion and tradition.
  • I think it is very good and healthy to have people showing their opposition or agreement on social and cultural issues especially in Saudi Arabia.

My opinion on Fatima part:

  • Her story was very interesting. I thought she did a good a job in presenting her own observation of the Saudi society.
  • I don’t think she represent a large number of Saudi women. She is from rich family. She has her own driver which many Saudi women don’t. She can uncover her face outside while many saudi women get  in trouble for uncovering part of their face in many cities of Saudi.
  • I really like her colorful abaya’s business. I really wish that these beautiful colorful Abaya will replace the black ones in KSA.

My opinion on Ahmed role:

  • I really like his part the most. He was very confidence in speaking about his thoughts and ideas. He stated clearly his vision of change in Saudi society.
  • I think his story possibly represent a specific group of young Saudi who are well-educated and concerned about women rights along with the civil issues of Saudi society.
  • I think he did a good job overall.

My opinion on Aziz role:

  • I thought he was so funny.
  • His story is very common among Saudi teenagers, talking and having fun with girls in the chat rooms or in the messengers then, falling in love and then arrange for a meeting and then one of them may not show up, or maybe both of them show up but they end up getting in trouble or maybe they decide to get married but then their family will oppose the whole thing! You know, happy ending are rarely predicted on this type of stories 🙂

My opinion on the devil music group*:

  • I think the guys were confusing. I have never heard or saw music group similar to theirs in Saudi Arabia before. It was very interesting for me to watch and listen to their stories.
  • Their music and their clothes are unaccepted by the majority of Saudi society.

How do Saudi viewers react to the episode:

Many Saudi (men and women) felt upset and offended by this episode for many reasons. Some think that the episode focuses only on the negative sides of Saudi society and ignore all the positive sides.  Many Saudi don’t like to see any criticism on their culture exposed to the outsiders. Part of that comes from the old belief that the west are conspiring against Saudi culture or that some religions will try to destroy Islam by presenting a bad picture of muslim society.

Other Saudi think that it is perfectly fine to let people share their individual understanding and observation to the world even if it disagree with our observation. In the time of internet, the world has become a very small village and things can’t be hidden anymore.

I personally think that it is better that we become open and honest about our problems. The mask strategy is no longer practical and Saudi should appear to the world with no makeup. We aren’t the best country in the world and certainly not the worst. There are many Saudi who view life and society differently. I think everyone of them should have the right to speak up his/her mind. We may agree or disagree with what they say and think, we may think that they are completely right or wrong but none of us can deny their right to share their own observation about the world around them.

* Clarification: I am not referring to the music group as the devil. I am referring to how the music group is called and perceived in Saudi society. In the episode  summary, they made the same reference as to explain why Saudi society oppose such type of music. Thanks for Hammad for asking me to clarify this point.

27 thoughts on “Saudi Arabia With No Makeup”

  1. Yeah, sadly they were all from Jeddah. Would’ve loved to see some diversity.

    On a bitter note, Aziz is no longer a teenager.

    About the devil music, there are a LOT of metal bands in our country and not only from Jeddah. I know some from Riyadh and Shargiyah as well. Photographed one band from Jeddah a few years back, pretty decent folks in my humble opinion.

    What I especially didn’t like about the reception of this video in my lovely country is how people were saying that Fatima and her friends were not “real” Saudi, that “real” Saudis wont do such a thing. Saying things like “look at them! they should kick them back to India!” yes, specifically India.

  2. The video isn’t available to me because I am not in the US, and would have to see it on instead. It is not yet posted there.

    Given what is written about the “True Life Diary” series generally I would expect it to be more about entertainment and mass appeal to an American audience than about broader realities or a more balanced view of Saudi Arabia.

    They seem to have chosen 4 “real Saudis” who are most likely to resonate with an American audience. Individualistic, against society (a lot of teens and young adults are–it is a life phase, and some continue a more reasoned and effective critique throughout life), and finding “enterprising” solutions: start a business, start a band, start a “forbidden” relationship in a chat room… Very appealing to American “know how”, ingenuity, individualism and entrepreneurship.

    A more balanced view, even if presented by 4 individuals only, would have a more traditional representative from each gender. Also, geographic and socio-economic diversity would result in a more complex view.

    Then again, this was seemingly designed for easy watching, and “yeah! they could be just like us with little more American know how” type understanding.

    Excellent presentation of this video and topic, Murtadha!

  3. @Qusay
    I really encourage you to watch the episode, it is very interesting and you may have a better reflection on it since you have lived in Jeddah.

    Thank you for reading it

    @Asmaa M,
    -I wasn’t referring to Aziz as teenager, but I was talking about the representation of his role in the episode. That is of course a personal opinion and can be true or false 🙂

    -as for the devil music, I haven’t lived in Jeddah so you may know better than me, but they aren’t common in Alsharqiyah and I agree with you that there is no coverage about them.

    – I was reading people’s comments on other websites about how fatima doesn’t look like Saudi and how she should live in egypt or india. It is very sad to hear such things. I think Saudi have this problem of believing that anyone who looks or thinks different than everyone, then he/she isn’t Saudi and should leave Saudi.
    I will discuss the issue in my future posts.

    yes, it is more about entertainment and I agree with you that their selection of people might be based on specific criteria. It is hard in Saudi to find people speaking English and are willing to speak openly to TV about controversial issues.

  4. It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story. —Native American saying

    (so don’t worry too about not having the entire story told. someone else will pick up the untold parts, and make another movie out of it.*(-̮̮̃•̃)*)

  5. It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story. —Native American saying

    (so don’t worry too much about not having the entire story told. someone else will pick up the untold parts, and make another movie out of it.*(-̮̮̃•̃)*)

  6. Devil music group?
    Can you be anymore judgmental?

    You know that’s the problem we “Saudis” have…
    if I don’t like you, that means you are wrong.

    It seems that you are disconnected from the Saudi reality or you’re living abroad for a long time.

    Because all what have been said in the episode is true.

    Nevertheless, I liked your analysis at the end.
    And yeah, we must hear each other out, without classifying people and accusing them for their opinions.
    Unfortunately, this freedom of speech does not exist here, I mean for a local TV channel to do such an episode to discuss sensitive issues as these without being shut down and sued by (the religious police)…impossible to happen.


  7. @Hning,
    I totally agree with you.

    you misunderstood that part of my post. I wasn’t being judgmental. The world “devil music” is the way the episode refer to the music group or the way Saudi society perceive the group. Devil music is a type of music where the singers dress special clothes (normally black) and sing different kind of songs. I am not saying that they are devil at all.
    – I will make a clarification on the post so that people don’t confuse the reference of Devil music group.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts

  8. Hey Guys and Girls,

    Would like to start of by saying I did have the luck to catch this episode, although I don’t live in the US, and found it very intriguing!

    As someone that has lived in Jeddah for 19 years, and visits every summer I have to agree with most of the points made in the video. I do however also agree with the concept of it being one sided. You do have to keep in mind that not everybody feels the way they do, but it is to be expected! I don’t think people should judge them for it. Be it they are conservative for fear of change or if they believe their world is perfect as it is, that does not give us the right to judge. That being said I think comments such as they are not “real Saudis” or “the devil’s music” is a tad judgmental and does appose the theory of a developing KSA. How do you expect us to develop as a society if we judge one another instead of embracing our brothers and sisters in unification of one country. I think before any progress can be made either politically or culturally we have to be not only open for it but respect each others opinions whether for or against our cause.

    I admire Ahmad for his hard work and determination in the fields of equality, barak allah feek, and hope to aid you in the not so distant future inshallah.

    Will be looking into this site more often as I would love to hear some of the stories and opinions you all have to this video and Saudi Arabia as a whole.

    Till then may peace and harmony be with you all

  9. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this and am glad that you further explained the “devil music” label. Maybe I’ll watch the video at some point and see for myself.

    Thank you.

  10. the death metal band are really good they may not be metal legends but they know how to knock off live music , it’s funny how everyone here describe it as devil music :S

    and am definitely going to get one of fatima’s abaya although now brown and grey abaya almost everywhere

  11. I liked your assessment of the show so much that I posted a link to it on my post about it. You have an insight as a Saudi that I don’t have. Even my husband said that Fatima isn’t a “real” Saudi! Of course he also believes that most of the news every day is made up too.

  12. Hmm I didn’t get to see this, but yes, four people from just a trickle of the whole society isn’t enough to show what’s really happening in a country. However, they do in a way somehow tell a bit, even just a little bit, of what they want, although such things might be even deemed impossible given the state of the society they live in.

    About metal bands, well, devillish or not, I don’t dig them, the nearest to them that I could ever get is Bon Jovi (and he’s not that metal).

  13. There are quite a lot of metal bands in jeddah. And secret gigs as well. I do not like the growling but I know metal fans and they are very nice people. Very polite, very friendly. Perhaps they can get rid of their bad feelings through the music? The blacker the tshirt the sweeter the guy I seem to see.
    I felt sorry their gig did not happen.

    I also noticed all these people were from Jeddah.
    I hope none of these people will get punished. I hope they will not take their passports and stop them from travelling.

    I did enjoy the movie. As it is titled, ”Resist the power” I am not surprised they all resisted something in society.

    I loved the guy Achmed. I do think he is a very good example of and for saudi youth. He is really working for change and in a proper way.
    My husband said when he was young such things were impossible.
    I also liked the mother of one of the metal guys. She was sweet.

    I loved the coloured abayas. I am dreaming of a white abaya. But even in Jeddah this is a risky thing to wear!

    I agree most people seem to be from very good background and enough money. But it was good to see people with dreams and plans. I think it was good for the rest of the world to see saudis are real people.
    I think for outsiders it makes saudi more human. I think this is good. Media sells more giving bad nes, so you do see more bad things about saudi and this kind of news has a way of taking the thoughts of individual. real people away. A documentary , like this will show people from far away that saudi people are like everybody else. Real people. Real hearts, real dreams.

    There are many saudi youths who really work for the good of the country. there are many who worked and helped out at the floods. I wish this was in a documentary.

    I agree that as a documentary it would have been much better to show more diversity. In places and people. But as it is, I still enjoyed it.
    And it is very difficult for a foreign team to get allowance to enter and film in saudi. Maybe they were not allowed anywhere else.

  14. @H, I loved this
    It takes a thousand voices to tell a single story.

    @Saudi alchemist, if you go to ”my space” you will find many saudi metal bands there. A friend told me and I was amazed. it is not what I expected.

  15. Just watched the episode and wrote an article for Hayat about the freedom of expression, this concept -beside the agreement on what was mentioned in the episode- is the real issue, now they have to face a law suit filed in Jeddah against them for “muhjahara” or announcing their sins…

  16. I wrote about the episode on my own blog but yes i also agree with your points..

    I just knoew that they arrested 1st of June.. Thats pretty sad and I assumed that would be happen..

    Youth is victims of media that how many they show the effort or challenges, they will arrest and the media team who film those ones, would ignore them?! No punishment.. How could the team film the youth?!

    Umm, strenge.. anyway bye.

  17. The program might be shown later in different countries. For example, it will air in Canada on July 12.

    I did a post on it as well:

    10 Lessons for Saudis Appearing on Foreign Television Programs: ABC, LBC, MTV, Other

    I linked other posts, including this one, and also addressed more broadly issues of media ethics, editing, and caveats.

    I look forward to seeing the program on or after July 12, when hopefully it will be posted to

    Others have seen it online using programs that mask the origin of their IP.

  18. I love your blog, its very cool i have been avoiding watching this programme just because it sounds so typical to me, but i agree with what have you said about it
    take care

  19. I too like your assessment, and it’s very much in line with my own thoughts on the programme, I posted it to my Facebook.

    It’s sad that they’ve ended up in court, I thought that would happen or something like it, and hope they haven’t been abandoned by those who were encouraging them to make the programme in the first place, as so often happens.

    I love to watch KSA2, especially programmes about the culture and heritage, I hope and pray that those at the forefront of change manage to keep the best of them when moving into the future.

    Things are changing, that’s in the nature of life,

  20. Great review you made, I heard of this news on BBC, I think local authorities are angry with these people who participated in the program.

    I agree 4 people cannot represent whole Saudi society.

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