Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Saving the Saudi streets | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
Select Page

A video clip of a car crash on one of the roads of Riyadh, and the bodies of the young men hurtling out from within the vehicle, has caused a state of panic and fear locally.

In summary, the accident involved a group of teenagers travelling in a car, with the driver driving in a hysterical and dangerous manner. The incident ends with the car turning over after crashing into the pavement, and then in a horrific moment, bodies and dismembered body parts fly out of the car. A mobile phone camera being operated by one of the bystanders – who are also teenagers – records everything.

The Saudi and international media covered these troubling images, and the programs and comments poured in.

This phenomenon; a form of dangerous exhibitionism whereby a car is driven recklessly and on the verge of death, is known as “Tafheet” in Saudi Arabia. The new name adopted by young people is “Hajwalah”, but all these terms share the same meaning; a practice of ignoring traffic laws and turning the car into a fatal acrobatic instrument.

Riyadh is a huge city with nearly 6 million inhabitants and a rising urban population density. It is the most overpopulated location in Saudi Arabia, followed by the city of Jeddah on the west coast, and hence the roads in these cities have become congested with cars. Cars are effectively the only means of getting around, in the absence of public transport means such as metro stations or trains, and the weak bus and taxi infrastructure.

The Saudi population has a high proportion of young people, who are characterized by their activity, excess energy and integration with the outside world. However, this integration is virtual and hypothetical, since it is achieved through satellite television and the internet. Young people are simply more aware than they were in the past, whether for good or for bad.

The more people there are, the more the problems there will be. In this case, prevention is better than cure, and this tsunami of an increasing population in Saudi Arabia should be preempted with means to absorb the human explosion, from roads and transport services in general. Most importantly of all, the explosive energy of youth must be accommodated in a constructive way, for this energy will always seek to express itself, and either you ride this wild horse and take advantage of it, or you leave it to cause damage.

Here I will summarize the idea I am putting forward:

The phenomenon of reckless driving, which all the inhabitants of Riyadh and Jeddah complain about, is in part – and I do not say in every aspect – due to a lack of alternatives or a state of boredom or even “escapism”, in the words of one youth who explained the phenomenon on a television program.

Previously, and until recently, the local street served to accommodate all the activities and interests of its inhabitants, from young to old, men and women. Boys would play football and other games in the confines of their neighborhood, whilst the men would sit with each other in the corners watching the boys and chatting, and likewise the women would exchange their morning visits. Through this process, a spirit of social solidarity was strengthened.

Now the culture of the street is over, or at least the good aspects of it are. People are now part of much larger human blocks, but without any form of healthy contact or useful interaction.

My proposal is for each of the large Saudi cities to ensure the creation of neighborhood centers where there are football pitches, running tracks, and parks to stroll around. This then provides opportunities for the residents of the neighborhood to get acquainted, ensures that the energy of young people is used in the right place, and creates a network of social solidarity, ultimately strengthening social security.

We miss the street and we want it to return in a new guise…the neighborhood center.