We don’t need statistics to tell us that Saudi Arabia is a crowded place: all we need is to experience the traffic jams that frustrate millions day after day in Riyadh, Jeddah, Mecca or Dammam to testify to this fact. In spite of the traffic cameras and the police and the traffic cops and the checkpoints, you can still see speed freaks on the roads of the Kingdom. You can also see reckless fools, most of them teenagers, doing great harm with their poor driving, to themselves and to people who happen to be in their way.
But figures are a good tool for understanding this congestion. The official numbers say that in 2012, the population of Saudi Arabia was 29.2 million, 54 percent male and 46 percent female. The data also shows that more than half the population resides in two cities, Mecca and Riyadh. A part of the population are youths aged 17 to 27, an age when people are full of energy and vigor.
The question raised by this data is, inevitably, about how to raise those young people well. Who can fill their free time? Who can teach them values? How can we give them a clear path to adulthood and the future? Without a doubt, families must shoulder a large part of this responsibility, emotionally, morally and legally. But because the government is responsible for the public sphere in a more general way, and because it has the power to enact and enforce laws and hold people accountable if they break them, it must also shoulder part of this burden.
Our youth are often bored, so some create games to amuse themselves that can sometimes become destructive. These include dangerous driving, drugs, and even extremism and religiously inspired terrorism. I think all Gulf states, not just Saudi Arabia, are in dire need of a real national plan to address the youth issue. Instead of our young people being seen as a burden, they should be viewed as a gift and an asset to their countries and societies. That is why it was very wise of the United Arab Emirates to make military service obligatory, which they did recently.
It is a fact—not just empty sentiment—to say that young people are the real wealth of society, and that they should be the object of society’s hopes and dreams. It is true that the youth are impassioned, but that passion must have a fence built around it to temper its force and protect it against danger. Brig. Gen. Ali Al-Rashidi, a spokesman for the Saudi Traffic Department, told Al-Eqtisadiah newspaper recently that 24.6 percent of accidents involve excess speed, and 21.4 percent involve running a red light. Of the people killed in these accidents, 72 percent are youths. These are horrible figures.
Now is the time to address the youth issue as an urgent cause. We must stop simply giving emotional litanies about the correct administrative, scientific, psychological and social approaches to raising our youth—we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We don’t need religious or social sentiment, we need a real working plan with multiple phases. Young people are like wild horses, which injure themselves and others if they are not led to the right path.
I believe now is the right time for a new national vision for our young people, initiated by a special ministry created solely to oversee their future.