Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat—Young people around the world often gather to meet at the local coffee shop, and the youth of Saudi Arabia are no different. With this in mind, the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue (KACND) has launched a new project aiming to promote dialogue and debate in the Kingdom’s coffee houses.
The project aims to host KACND events at popular coffee shops in order promote the center and the concepts of dialogue and debate, in addition to providing cafés with publications promoting the culture of dialogue.
KACND has hosted a number of “dialogue cafés” over the past year to engage Saudi Arabia’s youth with current affairs. KACND said the idea of the dialogue cafés was to hold informal monthly gatherings at public places in order to discuss issues concerning the youth, often with a public figure making a presentation and responding to questions.
KACND held a café discussion called “The Poor: A Social Responsibility” earlier this year at the Dialogue Academy for Training and Polls. The director of the Social Security office in Riyadh, Dr. Asma Al-Khamis, as well as social researchers and students, attended the session to debate the issue. Saudi youth who attended the session were able to pose questions to the experts on hand and debate the issues raised during the session among themselves.
Saudi teenager Abdullah Al-Tayash told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Youth represent nearly 60 percent of the population of Saudi Arabia, and so they must have a mutual language of dialogue and understanding that uses all possible means, particularly in light of the unprecedented new media revolution that opens new avenues for communication and dialogue.”
He added: “New media has allowed the youth to communicate and discuss many issues and concerns openly and confidently, and we are now asking questions without fear.”
Tayash stressed that coffee shops in Saudi Arabia had always served as a forum for debate, but said the KACND initiative has served to formalize this and allow the youth greater access.
“Coffee shops brew a climate of in-depth and open talks between all sections of society, giving people the opportunity to exchange opinions and put forward realistic analysis of issues. The café dialogues are one of the new and effective methods for such talk, and we hope this will not only help the youth to become more knowledgeable, but also encourage them to search out information and discuss this on their own,” he said.
Tayash likened KACND’s dialogue cafés with the Word Café or Knowledge Café structured conversation process promoted by Charles Savage. He said: “I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Charles Savage—he is the founder of the image of dialogue cafés—and attending one of his workshops promoting the idea of mutual dialogue.”