Saudi Arabia Culture

Saudi Arabia Culture and Mass Media

Newspapers in Saudi Arabia

According to COMMIT4FITNESS.COM, Saudi Arabia is a country located in Asia. The media in Saudi Arabia is heavily ruled by the regime and no criticism of Islam, the royal family or the government is allowed.

At the same time, the picture is twofold. For example, satellite antennas have been banned by law since 1994, but a majority of Saudi households have parabolas because holdings are not penalized and thus have access to, among other things, uncensored US news broadcasts and TV shows. Liberal media policy is part of the regime’s strategy to counter the recruitment and support of the Islamic State and other armed Islamist movements.

There are also close links between the Saudi royal house and international media groups. For example, through his holding company Kingdom Holding Company, Prince Alwalid bin Talal is a partner in Twitter, Time Warner, and in Rupert Murdoch’s news corporations and 21st Century Fox.

Radio and TV

Radio and television broadcasts are state-run and managed by Saudi Broadcasting Corporation (founded in 1962). The state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco also has its own radio and TV broadcasts.

Although private broadcasters are not allowed to broadcast from the country, Saudi investors are behind two major broadcasters broadcasting via satellite to the entire Arab world, OSN in Bahrain and MBC in Dubai.

OSN, founded in 2009, is the Middle East’s largest pay-TV company and has over 100 channels. The company has exclusive broadcast rights for films from several American film companies such as Warner Brothers and Paramount, and the same applies to a large number of American TV series.

MBC, founded in 1991, has about ten channels and is advertising-funded. MBC also owns the news channel al-Arabiya, founded in 2003. al-Arabiya is the Middle East’s second largest news channel after al-Jazira, it broadcasts around the clock and has editorial offices in some 30 cities around the world (2015). The channel has been accused of being prosaic in its news reporting and may partly be seen as a counterbalance to al-Jazira, accused of going the Qatari regime’s case, a regime Saudi Arabia has been straining relations with since the state was founded.

Internet and mobile telephony

Access to the Internet via fixed or mobile broadband is very good, even in remote areas, and the penetration of smart mobiles is almost 80 percent, which is higher than in Sweden (2015). All internet traffic goes through proxy servers that are monitored by the state, and sites that are considered immoral or seen as a threat to the government are routinely blocked, manually or through advanced software. Since 2011, news sites and blogs must have permission from the Ministry of Culture to operate.

In 2015, the most visited sites were Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Only one domestic site was on the top ten list, the news site Sabq.

Daily Press

In Saudi Arabia there are fifteen daily newspapers, most of which are published in Arabic and some in English. The largest are al-Riyadh, al-Jazira, both published in Riyadh, and Okaz, published in Jeddah. The largest among the English-language newspapers is Arab News, published in Jeddah. Most daily newspapers are privately owned, but must have a publishing certificate issued by the king. Chief editors are appointed by the government, which also has the right to dismiss them.

al-Riyadh and Arab News are published by Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG), which also owns the London-based Ashark al-Awsat, which is distributed to Arabic speakers worldwide. SRMG, owned by Kingdom Holding Company, is the leading media house in Saudi Arabia and also publishes about ten magazines.


According to ANIMALERTS, Saudi culture is very much linked to Islam, which has its mark on society as a whole. The visual arts are dominated by geometric and abstract patterns and by calligraphy (fiction). Music and poetry often have roots in the desert-based Bedouin culture.

This is the case, for example, nabati, traditional epic folk poetry, which lives alongside classical Arabic poetry, and arda, a folk dance performed by men equipped with swords.

In Saudi Arabia, cinemas and theaters have long been banned, but it is being relaxed – cinemas are allowed in 2018. Since then, recorded films, even from the West, have been bought and several Saudi filmmakers have received international attention in recent years. This is especially true of Haifaa al-Mansour, whose award-winning film The Green Bike is the first feature film to be filmed in its entirety in Saudi Arabia. The 2012 film is about a young girl who cannot rein in her longing for cycling even though it is considered inappropriate for girls. The female director had to communicate with the actors from the inside of a van during the outdoor shoots because she couldn’t show up on the street with male colleagues.

Among modern authors are Abdarrahman Munif (1933–2004) who, among other things, depicted desert life and Saudi Arabia’s evolution from Bedouin community to oil economy. Munif was deprived of his Saudi citizenship for political reasons. Turki al-Hamad published a trilogy from 1998 on the rise of a young Saudi in the 1960s and 1970s. He deals with sensitive topics such as politics, religion and sexuality. The works have been banned and Hamad himself has been the subject of damning fatwor and arrested six months in 2013. A young writer, Rajaa al-Sanea, published in 2006 a controversial novel about young Saudi women’s desire for a freer life.

The oasis landscape in al-Ahsa in the east is one of the places the UN organization Unesco has put on its World Heritage list. Rock paintings in the Ha’il region – some very old – are also classified as a world heritage site, as well as stone tombs from the Nabatean period in al-Hijr. Jiddas gama city block is highlighted because they testify to the history of the development on both sides of the Red Sea.

Saudi Arabia’s national anthem was composed by Egyptian-born musician Abdelrahman Elkhatib (1922–2013), who later served as a teacher in Södertälje and performed to a Swedish audience with musicians such as flute player Björn J: son Lindh.



New robot against Riyadh

December 19

The Saudis shoot down yet another robot fired by the huhire rebels in Yemen against Riyadh. The Huthis themselves state that the target of the robot was King Salman’s residence.

Bio is allowed

December 11

A ban on commercial cinemas that has prevailed since the 1970s is lifted, as part of the liberalization of society run by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Ministry of Culture and Information states that licenses for conducting bio-activities should begin to be issued as part of the government’s program for “rich indigenous culture for the Saudis”.

Leaders are absent from GCC summit

December 5

Hopes for a solution to the conflict within the GCC come to shame when everyone except the host country of Kuwait and Qatar is represented at a lower level at the regional cooperation organization summit in Kuwait. The meeting ends prematurely and is overshadowed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates declaring that they intend to form a new organization to strengthen their military, political, economic, trade and cultural cooperation.


Provised National Guard Manager is released

November 29th

Prince Miteb bin Abdullah is said to have been released after a settlement with authorities worth over a billion dollars. Prince Miteb is regarded as the most politically influential person among those arrested at the beginning of the month. He is the son of the former king and was the head of the National Guard. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in an interview with the New York Times that 95 percent of those arrested have agreed to hand over money or shares to the Saudi state. One percent should have been found not guilty of the charges, while the remaining 4 percent want their case tried legally. No details have been disclosed about the charges against any of the 208 “taken in for questioning”.

President of France on an unexpected visit

November 10

French President Emmanuel Macron unexpectedly shows up in Saudi Arabia, after a visit to the United Arab Emirates where a daughter museum for the Louvre in Paris has just been inaugurated. In Riyadh, Macron meets Crown Prince Mohammed. The President emphasizes the importance of stability in Lebanon, to which France has historically been closely linked, in the light of the deteriorating relations between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon.

“Anti-corruption efforts have only begun”

November 6

The purges are said to continue as yet another leading businessman is arrested, more bank accounts are frozen and a list is drawn up with names of people who are prohibited from leaving the country. Saudi State Prosecutor Saud al-Mojeb says the efforts against corruption have only begun.

Robot attack against Riyadh

November 4th

The Saudi air defense shoots down a long-range robot that was about to hit Riyadh’s international airport. The robot came from Yemen and is said to be the first to fire the huthirebells against the Saudi capital, which lies up to 100 km north of the border. Two days later, Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of being behind the attack, closing the air, sea and land border to Yemen as a result. The UN shortly afterwards appeals for the blockade to be lifted, as it strikes hard on supplies of supplies to the crisis-hit Yemen.

Big hit against financial elite

November 4th

Eleven princes, four ministers and dozens of former ministers are arrested, in what is officially described as a broad anti-corruption effort. The strike is described as the most extensive against leading people in modern history and causes great resurrection. Many judges see it as a way for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to strengthen his grip on power. Earlier in the day, the King stated that the Crown Prince was leading a newly formed commission with the task of combating corruption. Among those who are arrested and get their bank accounts frozen are Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world’s richest men who owns shares in Citigroup and Twitter, among others. At the same time, it is reported that a son of the former King Abdullah is being petitioned as head of the National Guard and that the naval chief and the finance minister are also replaced. After a few days, about 200 people are reported to have been arrested.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister resigns – in Saudi Arabia

November 4th

During a visit to Saudi Arabia, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri unexpectedly announces his departure. Hariri, who is also a Saudi citizen, states that he feels threatened with life in his home country and points out the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement. Many interpret Hariri’s message as part of the ongoing power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and some Lebanese claim that Hariri is acting on direct orders from the Saudis and cannot move freely. A month later, however, Hariri is back in Lebanon and withdraws her application for departure.


Women should be allowed in three sports arenas

October 29th

In another sign that new winds are blowing, it is announced that “families” – including women included – will, from 2018, visit three arenas in the major cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. The arenas that were previously open only to men will be equipped with restaurants, cafes and video surveillance. The decision is expected to provoke anger – sharp criticism has occurred after women were allowed to participate in the national day celebration in Riyadh in September, in what was then considered a one-off phenomenon.

Economic zone is planned

October 24th

A huge and independent economic zone will be built on the Red Sea, announces Crown Prince Mohammed. The aim is to broaden the economic base in Saudi Arabia and reduce oil dependency, in line with Vision 2030. This is a new mega city, called Neom, which will lie along the coast in the northwest and extend into Jordan and Egypt. Saudi Arabia will invest $ 500 billion in Neom, which will operate independently of Saudi regulations and where foreign investors are also welcome.

The UN accuses Saudi Arabia of killing children

October 5

Saudi Arabia and the other warring parties in Yemen are included on a UN list of violations of children’s rights in armed conflicts. The Saudi-led alliance is blamed for 683 children killed or injured in 2016, and for 38 attacks on schools and hospitals. These are attacks that the UN has verified. The rebel side is accused of 414 killed and injured children. The Saudi-led alliance was temporarily included in the 2016 list, but it changed after Saudi criticism (see June 2016). Now, the list also includes a list of parties that have taken measures to protect children, and Saudi Arabia and its allies are also included there. The war in Yemen has cost around 10,000 people their lives.


Women get the right to drive a car

September 26th

King Salman announces that the ban on women driving a car should be abolished. From June 2018, women will be able to take a driving license. Thus, Saudi Arabia becomes the last country in the world to allow women to drive. The decision is greeted with cheers and ovations widely but especially by the women who for many years have campaigned for the right to drive. Some of the women have been jailed after driving illegally and posted pictures of this on social media. However, not everyone is satisfied. A few hours after the decision became known, the hashtag “the women of my house will not drive” becomes one of the most popular on Twitter in Saudi Arabia, says The Economist. Whether women’s driving will require permission from a male relative is unclear.

Premiere for women at the sports arena

September 23

For the first time ever, women are allowed into a sports arena. It happens when National Day is celebrated at Kung Fahd Stadium in the capital Riyadh. Hundreds of women take the opportunity to buy a ticket to the event at the stadium. However, the women are not allowed to sit with the men.

Relief and ban on the internet

September 20

The authorities announce the ban on using Skype and Whatsapp to be lifted in order to facilitate business. It happens a few days after the Internet app Snapchat, at the Saudi request, agreed to block content from the Qatari TV company al-Jazira for users in Saudi Arabia. When the conflict between Saudi Arabia and Qatar broke out in June 2017, al-Jazira’s office in Saudi Arabia was closed. Since then, the company’s website has been inaccessible from Saudi Arabia.

Amnesty criticizes wave of arrests

September 15th

The human rights organization Amnesty International accuses the government of having arrested dozens of people for political reasons over the past week. Among the arrested are journalists, academics, activists and two well-known jurists: Salman al-Awdah and Awad al-Qarni. According to Amnesty, the human rights situation has deteriorated significantly in the country since Mohammed bin Salman was appointed crown prince in June. In the days following Amnesty’s statements, two prominent human rights activists are arrested: Abdulaziz al-Shubaily and Issa al-Hamid who co-founded Acpra (see May 2016 and March 2013). Both were at liberty awaiting the courts to decide on appeals from previous judgments. Acpra was formed in 2009 but was banned by the authorities in 2013.


Shia Muslim city barred

August 13th

Security forces have blocked the city of al-Awamiya in Qatif, where clashes with protesters have been going on for several months (see also June 2017). Authorities have previously stated that parts of al-Awamiya have been shut down, but Human Rights Watch now states that it applies to the entire city. According to the human rights group, satellite imagery shows that the city has suffered extensive devastation.

Nobel laureates appeal to the doomed

12th of August

Ten peacekeepers in an open letter are calling on the Saudi authorities to refrain from executing 14 Shi’ite Muslims sentenced to death for crimes linked to protests against the regime in the province of Qatif. The Supreme Court ruled in July and sentenced the same month to Riyadh. Human rights organizations have criticized the mass trial against the men who are alleged to have been tortured. Among the signatories of the letter are South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Iranian lawyer Shirin Eadi, Yemeni activist Twakul Karman and Polish former president and trade union leader Lech Wałęsa.

Huge tourist project launched

1 August

About 50 formerly unspoilt islands in the Red Sea will be transformed into an exclusive tourist resort, announces Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, chairman of the General Investment Fund. According to the plans, the first phase of construction will be completed by the end of 2022. Laws that correspond to an “international standard” should prevail, which means, among other things, that women will be allowed to wear a bikini on the beach. The project is part of Vision 2030 (see April 2016).


Qatari “terror list” is published

July 25

Saudi Arabia, together with Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, publishes a “black list” of terrorist-accused organizations and individuals with links to Qatari authorities. There are nine individuals and nine charities and media organizations.

Turkey mediates in the Qatari crisis

23 July

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan meets King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed in Jeddah to discuss Qatar. Turkey has stood on Qatar’s side and is trying to mediate in the conflict. Turkey has also rushed plans to set up a military base in Qatar and now has 150 soldiers in the country. It will be Turkey’s first base in the region.

Changes in the safety device

July 21st

King Salman issues a series of decrees on changes in the country’s security organization. The counter-terrorism unit merges with the domestic intelligence service and becomes a single entity. The royal bodyguard force gets a new boss, and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman gets several new advisers. King Salman says the changes are taking place in light of the recent deteriorating relations in the region.


Shi’ite Muslim territory is demolished

June 27

Authorities are beginning to demolish several centuries-old housing in the Shi’ite Muslim city of al-Awamiya. The residential area is suspected to be a hangout for militant opponents. In 2017, six security police, six opponents and a number of civilians were killed in clashes in the area now being demolished.

The king appoints son to crown prince

21 June

King Salman appoints his nephew Mohammed bin Nayef and appoints his son Mohammed bin Salman as new crown prince. The 31-year-old son thus also becomes Deputy Prime Minister and continues as Defense Minister. Prince Mohammed bin Nayif, 57, is also deprived of the post of Head of Home Security.

Improved relations with Iraq

June 20

Saudi Arabia and Iraq announce that they will set up a Coordination Council to upgrade their relations. The message comes the day after a meeting between Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.

Relations with Qatar are broken

June 5

Saudi Arabia breaks diplomatic relations with Qatar and closes the border, bans Qatari flights over its airspace and orders home nationals from neighboring countries. Several allies in the region are doing the same: Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Yemen and the Maldives. Qatar is accused of supporting IS and al-Qaeda. In the background, there is Saudi dissatisfaction with Qatar’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Jazira and Iran. Judges also believe that the Saudi leadership feels stronger after Trump’s visit and his clear designation of Iran.


Trump visiting

May 21

US President Donald Trump comes to Saudi Arabia on his first trip abroad since taking office in January. Both King Salman and Trump, in their speeches, both point Iran to mainstream Islamist terrorism. Trump also urges Muslim leaders in general to take the lead in the fight against Islamist terrorism and drive the terrorists out of holy places and from the face of the earth.

Relief for women is reported

May 5th

The restrictions on what women in Saudi Arabia may do without a male guardian’s permission should be reduced, reports Saudi media. According to a decree from King Salman, women no longer need permission to use public services, “if there is no legal basis” according to Islam for that, it is called.


Saudi Arabia in the UN Women’s Commission

April 22

The criticism is harsh in many respects when it is reported that Saudi Arabia, in a closed vote, has been selected as one of 45 countries in the UN Women’s Commission. Saudi Arabia will thus participate in the UN’s work to increase gender equality.


The king on a tour of Asia

February 26th

King Salman embarks on a three-week tour of Asia, with a delegation of around 1,000 people and 460 tonnes of trailers. The purpose is primarily to discuss investment opportunities. The trip includes visits to Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, China and the Maldives.

The oil minister praises Trump

February 1st

Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih welcomes new President Donald Trump’s plans to reorient US energy policy more towards fossil fuels.

Saudi Arabia Culture

About the author