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The Ghazi al Gosaibi Memorial Lecture: Saudi Youth and Societal Transformation

Event Date: 05/11/2015

Lecture by: Dr. Mark C. Thompson
Venue: Arab–British Chamber of Commerce, 43 Upper Grosvenor Street, London W1K 2NJ.
Time: 5.30 p.m.

Dr. Mark C. Thompson is Assistant Professor of Middle East Studies at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, where he teaches courses in International Relations and Globalization. Mark’s principal research areas are Saudi socio–political development and societal transformation and he has published on topics such as Saudi youth issues and challenges facing Saudi women leaders.

He published a book by I.B. Tauris: Saudi Arabia and the Path to Political Change: National Dialogue and Civil Society, 2014, and is currently working on another book about societal issues and change from the perspective of young Saudi men.

For the Ghazi al Gosaibi lecture he talked about some of the issues that concern Saudi youth today, in particular the challenges facing young people as they transition from education into society.

Dr. Thompson’s talk was based on an ongoing research project looking at Saudi socio–political, economic and cultural issues from the perspective of young Saudi men aged approximately 19–25. He explained that to date the project has targeted mainly university and college students as well as first-time employees although in 2016 it will expand to include other societal constituencies. So far the research has been conducted with approximately 4000 individuals in various parts of the Kingdom as well as approximately 800 male undergraduate students taking “Globalization” and “International Relations” courses taught by Dr. Thompson at KFUPM.

Dr. Thompson’s interest in this area stems from his work at KFUPM, where he is immersed in discussion of these issues through daily engagement with young Saudi men from all parts of the Kingdom and all walks of life. Furthermore, his experience is not limited to his current employment at KFUPM as since late 2000 he has also worked with young Saudis at other Saudi institutions in various parts of the Kingdom such as Prince Sultan University and the Saudi Arabian National Guard. In addition, Dr. Thompson noted that all of his research and writing is based on an extensive interview process with not only students, but also business leaders, academics and journalists across the Kingdom.

Dr. Thompson pointed out that contemporary Saudi societal issues remain an under–researched area particularly by non–Saudi academics, in part due to lack of access to Saudi societal constituencies and to a certain extent due to a limited understanding and⁄or knowledge of contemporary Saudi society in all its diversity. Nevertheless, what is extremely significant is how Saudi socio–politics is being affected by societal transformation; one that is being driven by a potent combination of demographics, increased education as well as access to the Internet and burgeoning social media usage. Indeed, Saudi Arabia’s predominantly young population is increasingly regionally and globally interconnected. In consequence, he noted that young educated Saudis have experienced a rapid political awakening, which raises important questions regarding the consequences of growing political awareness on Saudi societal transformation.

In his talk, Dr. Thompson addressed issues such as youth and societal transformation, perceptions of civil society, social media usage and its effects, career aspirations and work responsibilities, attitudes to political issues and social marginalization. In conclusion, he argued that Saudi Arabia’s greatest resource is not oil; rather it is many of the Kingdom’s educated and ambitious young people who are more than willing to participate in the decision-making process. Dr. Thompson explained that his research shows that young Saudis want to be taken seriously; they need to feel empowered, valued and heard as well as being given the chance to participate constructively. Additionally, many young people do not simply want jobs; they want rewarding careers so that they will be able to contribute to individual, corporate and national development. For this reason, Dr. Thompson stressed that it is imperative that we understand not only the aspirations and concerns of young Saudis, but also how they see their futures in today’s world.

Dr. Thompson can be contacted at: markt@kfupm.edu.sa

The event was followed by a drinks reception, with canapés kindly provided courtesy of Riaz Khan, one of our members.

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