Thursday, May 27, 2010

MTV True Life Video

There is a new MTV video that was recently aired featuring four Saudi youths and the realities they face living in Saudi Arabia. Each of them is trying to make changes in their country in their own way while still remaining true to their Islamic heritage. There is lots of talk here in Saudi Arabia about this show. Many Saudis are upset that it shows Saudi Arabia in a bad light. My feeling is that these young people are being truthful and have hope that change will come while many Saudis continue to be in denial about problems within their own country. Speaking out for change is something that can get people into trouble here. I have to admire these young people for having the courage to do so. I would love to see the majority of Saudi people supporting the truth of this video and facing the challenges it presents head-on.

Fatima, a young enterprising Saudi woman CLICK ON PHOTO TO WATCH VIDEO
Fatima is a beautiful young Saudi woman of 20 who has started her own business - making colored abayas instead of the traditional black color that most women wear here. Since she is a female, she is forbidden from riding a bicycle in public so she dresses up as a boy and takes her bike out for a spin. I love the images of her standing below the world's largest bicycle in Jeddah - a very famous sculpture that I have featured on my photo blog.

Ahmad is a political activist who is working toward establishing equality in women's rights and others' rights. He faces continual disappointments but doesn't give up.

Aziz is a young man who disagrees with the strict gender segregation in Saudi Arabia. It's heartbreaking when the girl he's in love with, although he's never met her in person, dumps him.

Breeze of the Dying is a heavy metal band comprised of a group of young Saudi men who face difficulties trying to express themselves through their music in the country of Saudi Arabia. They are misunderstood as devil worshippers and only want to play their favorite kind of music in a country that restricts them from doing so.

An hour in length, this documentary is an accurate portrayal of the way things really are in this country and is well worth the time spent watching it. I recognized many of the background scenes shot in Jeddah and have published photos of many of the sculptures and mosques on my photo blog. My feelings at the conclusion of seeing the video were mixed - I was overjoyed that these young adults want to see changes in the same ways that I do and that they are actually trying to do something about it. But I was also saddened at the same time because of all the obstacles they face in trying to do so.

Saudi Alchemist wrote a very fair assessment of the show in his blog post about it.

Click here to watch the MTV documentary.


  1. Wow - I've been able to view it here without any problems.

  2. Anything that is against the society will find support in the west !

    I disagree that this video shows the truth- it doesn't !

    I am a Saudi - those people are only a minority but they found a hearing ear !

    Can Mtv come to me for an interview, NO of course ! Because I am not the type of opinion they want to show ..

    Anyway, they are free, let them say whatever they want and leave the judgement to people :)

    Hamdah from Saudi Arabia

  3. Hi Hamdah - I'm just curious what about the video in your opinion is not true? I know that from my own perspective and the perspective of these individuals, the things they have said are very real. Do you think they just made this stuff up or that they are not real Saudis? I'd love for you to explain what you mean. Thanks.

  4. Oh yeah it's real
    Anyone who does not in a deep state of denial.

    A Saudi woman can't wear colored Abaya in public... if she did so, she will be arrested by religious police.

    You can't go inside the mall unless you have a female relative with you. No one can deny that.

    Women do not have the right to give their opinions in many aspects of life starting from head of state to woman's own home (Man always has the word)

    And the last time I went to a rock concert in Riyadh I was accused of being satanist, and some have sworn that they saw devil and blood everywhere :O something which has been disproven by official police.

    So don't tell me it's not the truth..
    It's my country I know all about it

  5. Murtadha of Saudi Alchemist did an interesting review of this program, all 4 parts, including an assessment of how representative it is or not of the broader Saudi society, and emphasizing its entertainment rather than documentary nature:

    Saudi Arabia With No Makeup

    Since I still agree with me, I take the liberty of repeating here my comment there:

    "The video isn’t available to me because I am not in the US, and would have to see it on instead. It is not yet posted there.

    Given what is written about the “True Life Diary” series generally, I would expect it to be more about entertainment and mass appeal to an American audience than about broader realities or a more balanced view of Saudi Arabia.

    They seem to have chosen 4 “real Saudis” who are most likely to resonate with an American audience. Individualistic, against society (a lot of teens and young adults are–it is a life phase, and some continue a more reasoned and effective critique throughout life), and finding “enterprising” solutions: start a business, start a band, start a “forbidden” relationship in a chat room… Very appealing to American “know how”, ingenuity, individualism, and entrepreneurship.

    A more balanced view, even if presented by 4 individuals only, would have a more traditional representative from each gender. Also, geographic and socio-economic diversity would result in a more complex view.

    Then again, this was seemingly designed for easy watching, and “yeah! they could be just like us with little more American know how” type understanding."

    Hamdah--if I understand you correctly, you are referring to the non-representative nature of the participants in the video, rather than claiming certain things about the society are not true, like the dominance of black as a colour for the abaya, etc. You seem in that to agree with Murtadha and other Saudi commentators there. Please correct me if I am wrong.

  6. The change is coming and this is the nature of life whether we like it or not...

    LPArabia..this is not true...Women can wear colored Abaya because my wife does and I have seen some wearing it but it is not common.

    The Black Abaya was introduced to the region by the Ottoman Turks and before that women in Arabia used to wear colorful cloth.

  7. awwwwww i really want to watch it but it is "not available" outside the US :(

  8. Hi Susie-

    colored abaya isn't my concern- I don't mind wearing any color as it follows the rule of Islam- first the sister in the video shows her hair even during prayer which is agreed by all scholars that showing anything else than face and hands is forbidden. And she is showing her arms, and hair!

    Second, the brother who wants political involvement of women is also fine- I don't agree or disagree as I don't have enough information about his campaign! But the whole platform and frame isn't satisfying to me ! women putting on makeup - showing their hair and they say this is Islam ! Big NO!

    Third, brother who wants relations with girls MUST not know anything about Islam- relationship between men and women is forbidden- he wants to love- go out and try the girl as if she is a piece of cloth - NO ! This brother is not belonging to the will of the society- I dare any true Muslim to support his calls !

    The whole video is using Islam against Islam!

    Showing people praying and after that doing every single thing against Islam- isn't true Islam - this is superficial !

    I can't go into their intentions but the appearance can tell us something - although that is not always true- but it plays a role!

    Dearest Susie- you loved the video because it is the image as you see it - not as we see it .. Try to have a panoramic balanced view and you will realize that video isn't showing 90% of the truth..

    Hope I explained my opinion Susie!

  9. A Saudi woman can't wear colored Abaya in public... if she did so, she will be arrested by religious police.

    (Well I have several syrian friends living in Jeddah and wearing colored abayas)

    You can't go inside the mall unless you have a female relative with you. No one can deny that.

    (This is to prevent harassment of girls because guys who go into the mall will harass girls, do you accept that?)

    Women do not have the right to give their opinions in many aspects of life starting from head of state to woman's own home (Man always has the word)

    (Part of your statement is true- but the other is wrong- I am a woman and I participate in every single aspect of my life- I give opinion in my family and everyone will listen and so do many women in the society) There is good also- not only evil !

    And the last time I went to a rock concert in Riyadh I was accused of being satanist

    (That is right - one of my best friends was invited to a DJ party and then she discovered half of the people there are wearing Satanist clothes and symbols- we are a Muslim country and we have to prevent any religion from growing in Saudi Arabia other than Islam- we are 100% Muslims- can you tell the Vatican not to prevent call for Muslim prayer? of course no - cuz they are 100% catholics - it's not a place for non-catholics!

    So don't tell me it's not the truth..
    It's my country I know all about it

    (I am also Saudi - it's my country and I know also everything about it)

    Change has to come from within- without any foreign interference !

  10. Well, I loved the program, but I'm American, so what do I know, right?

    Thanks for connecting us to this. I'm going to share it with others! Keep up the good work Susie!

  11. I'm a Saudi girl and I agree 100%. These people are not minority , they are the majority of Saudi youths in the big cities. As LP said anyone who disagree is suffering from a sever case of denial.

    Regarding colored absyas. It might be common in a city like Jeddah or Dammam. But try wearing it in a city like Taif or Abha or a village and be prepared for the religious police chasing ya !

    I can't see how the video is using Islam against Islam. And I believe the superficial thing is thinking Islam is only about covering one hair or wearing no make-up. Unfortunately this kind of thinking is the reason of the sorry state Saudi Arabia is in.

    But there will always be hope. Change is coming whether extremists like it or not.

    - Noor -

  12. Excellent video. I don't think anyone would see these young folks as representative of KSA in any way, but that's not the point. These people are the exceptions, but showing that there are exceptions is the key to this. Of course the producers chose rebellious, anti-establishment types. what would be the point of showing mainstream youths who follow all the rules...begrudgingly perhaps.

    I think that showing that there are rebels and that they're not necessarily the ones doing "drifting" stunts on the streets in stolen cars or fomenting terrorist deeds is a worthwhile goal.

    And really now, isn't it time women stopped buying lingerie from men who are strangers, getting into taxis driven by unrelated males...and only wearing black abayas?

  13. :o) I am watching it right now...I agree with it. I am in the US, but I really do agree with it.

  14. I never did understand the whole..women must cover their whole bodies to pray...thing. Cover from whom? God? God who sees us naked in the shower and sitting on the toilet and while we are in our beds doing..ahem..bed things...this is the same God that requires we cover our whole bodies in prayer as a sign of respect to Him? Meanwhile a man is only required to cover his "awra" (navel to knee) while in prayer. granted most of them cover more than that but that is all that is required of them.

    Prayers require abultion and a pure clean mind and heart...why do u...or anyone...feel that a woman must cover her entire body to pray to God? What is it about hair that you believe gets God worked up about women?

    And this is not a funny question....I seriously seriously would like an answer.

    What is it about hair that not only needs covering from men...but God as well?

  15. I admire the respectful and measured way these young people are going about advocating for themselves. Their positions are well thought out and articulated. Some quotes remain with me, "...just give me a reason I can understand."

    I am also struck by the support and kindness they receive from their parents. Even if the mothers don't wish to wear a colored abaya themselves, they acknowledge that the black abaya is cultural, not Islamic. These are folks who think things through and give their opinions, while politely allowing others to have theirs. All in all, it speaks well for the mildness and tolerance of the average Saudi citizen, whatever the official policy may be.

    Like so many, I am fascinated by the beauty and exoticism of Saudi Arabia. Isn't it humbling and reassuring that underneath it all, we are all the same? Listening to the women talk together, I felt like I was in my mother's kitchen, having coffee. Listening to the mother greeting her son's rocker friends, I could hear myself talking to my daughter ("I can't even understand the words." -- with a smile)

    Different ages, genders, cultures, religions...but all the same underneath. How beautiful is our world!

    (Thanks for giving me this peek into your world, Susie. I always enjoy your blog.)

  16. Dear Susie,

    thank u for this post , I had written u an email re this show.I am so proud to see these young people following their dreams and also being so faithful to their religion. I was impressed to see the rock band members change their attire and say prayers. This is the kind of balance we néed to keep in our lives. No doubt these youth are the face of future Saudi Arabia.

  17. I actually enjoyed the video too and found it quite an insight into how these young people think and the struggles they face.

    It's all too easy to judge the teenagers when you see them out on a Wednesday or Thursday evening but really, as was pointed out in the video, there are very few 'outlets' for them. What with strict gender segregation, even fears of gender mixing there are so many things that are just not available for teenagers here in Saudi. It's hardly surprising that they spend the weekends hanging about the streets, trying to get into malls and unsurprising that they make use so heavily of the internet.

    As for coloured abayas, it may seem like something trivial to many but a lot of ladies do get fed up with being expected to wear black, black, black. I don't know how it is in Jeddah but here in Riyadh we actually have the religious 'raiding' factories and abaya shops and seizing all the abayas that have embroidery on. They are still of the mindset that only plain black is acceptable. Yes you see women occasionally with a coloured abaya but these women are generally Syrian/Egyptian etc not Saudi.

    So yes, many of these issues may seem small and not worth the air time but a lot of small things build up and up into big things.

  18. Okay this is random but, I'm in KSA too and am trying really, really hard to find Fatimas youtube video or email or something so I can contact her about her colored abayaat.

    If anyone knows pls, pls gimme the info!

    Umm Ibrahim

  19. Oh look, another Umm Ibrahim too! LOL

    well, I'm a diff one...LOL...I'm in the EP...and I just asked about contacting Fatima about her collection, en'shallah.

    and yup, it does get EXTREMELY tedious ONLY wearing black, although I wear a funky style...I wear like a short manteau in a color and jeans, and a black or colorful wrap and a the oldschool batwing abaya, I like it cuz my under clothing peeps out and I wear it chador for me...but I got a lilac abaya from Bedoon Essm and although id love to wear it around, the local women cluck at you and call you shameful for going out in color! *gasp!!!!*...I think thou jeddah is more liberal. I give mad props to any local woman who is brave enough to go out in a colored abaya...i'm just sooo tired of black as is the hubbster.

  20. You're a typical American Susie... biased and one-sided.

  21. I get so angry about comments such as the one above. Angling that you as an 'American' is so 'typical'. If there is anything people should practice is not to generalize a group, an ethnicity, a nationality, a gender, etc. Open minds are the most receptive, to thoughts, ideas, change. DerKalviator, get over yourself.

  22. Hi LPArabia - Thanks so much for your comment. I know that we all have different experiences here, and yours sounds more in line with what I see going on. I appreciate your speaking up.

    Hi Chiara - I find it interesting that we can view the video here in KSA but you can't view it in Canada! I realize that all of the video's participants were from Jeddah, and they may not represent all people their age here, but I know there are others who feel the same way they do.

    Hi Majed - I hope you're right.

    Hi MissChatterBox - Very strange that it's viewable here in KSA...

  23. Hi Hamdah - Thanks for your explanation. Regarding the brother who wants a girlfriend - isn't it possible to know about Islam but disagree with certain aspects of it? For example, even scholars disagree about gender mixing, whether music is haram or not, etc. With divorce rates here rivaling those in the US and elsewhere, maybe getting to know a person first before marriage isn't such a wild idea as opposed to marrying a virtual stranger who is chosen based on the family he or she comes from. And actually Sheikh Ahmed Al-Ghamdi has recently stated that gender segregation in KSA is really cultural and not religious. Muslims in other societies around the world manage to get along just fine without the strict interpretations attributed to Islam that KSA practises.

  24. Hi Angel - Glad you liked the program, but like Hamdah said, change has to come from within from the Saudi people, and it won't happen because other people outside think it should change.

    Hi Anon/Noor - I'm so glad you took the time to comment. I really appreciate hearing that there are others who do agree and that these youths in the video are not alone. I also didn't understand what Hamdah meant about the video using Islam against Islam, and I also feel that what's really important is how we treat others, not whether we cover our hair or not. Thanks again!

    Hi Veeds - I'm getting the feeling that these kids are more representative of young people here than many would like to think... I know that my own husband is in denial about the realities and the existence of many things here.

    Hi CinderellaHijabi - Cute name! Thanks for watching it.

    Hi CoolRed - I see the covering thing the same as you do. I was brought up to believe that God sees and knows everything we do or think. I don't understand this obsession with covering up the hair either...

    Hi Amelie - I have found myself asking so many questions here all the time and either never feeling satisfied with the answers or just not getting any answers at all, so that quote you highlighted really struck me as I watched the video also "...just give me a reason I can understand." I loved how the families shown were very supportive also and I think that explains why the kids are more free spirited than others here in KSA where conformity is demanded.

  25. Hi Anon @ 6:30 AM - I totally agree with you. Thanks so much for your comment.

    Hi UmmIbrahim#1 - I've read about the raids on abaya shops, but what good does that do? There are a jillion others that they don't hit and it seems so unfair to the poor guy whose shop they DO hit. I agree with you that one of the biggest problems here in KSA is the glaring lack of activities for young people as well as families. And I also agree about the black abayas - wearing black in this heat is ridiculous - black absorbs heat. It's more like death wish here in this climate. Makes no sense. I think there's nothing wrong with color and Fatima has inspired me! And all those little things do add up - to a lot of unhappiness.

    Hi UmmIbrahim#2 in the EP - I do have Fatima's contact info so please email me at
    Lilac, huh? Cool! Sounds like you are doing your own thang over there in the EP - I wouldn't worry about that clucking at all!

    Hi DerKalvinator - That's a pretty wide generalization you are making there. America is a very diverse nation of many opinions. By making such a sweeping generalization, you've shown us exactly how biased and one-sided YOU are.

    Hi Anon @ 10:59PM - Thank you for your comment. I've always considered myself pretty open-minded, fair and tolerant, but I guess other people may not see me that way...

  26. Susie--The video can't be seen in Canada because of broadcasting rights and revenues. The show True Life Diary would have to be shown here by for me to be able to see it on video,as videos from are blocked for reasons of broadcasting regulations. The same is true of Comedy Central, and some others.

    I even tried, but no luck trying from Down Under either!

    I am sure there is a segment of society which feels exactly this way, and that was the point, to show that segment, rather than a broader more representative approach.

    Glad you linked Murtadha's post--it complements your own! :)

  27. Susie, do you have any contact information for the guys of Breeze of the Dying? I might be able to have them perform at my highschool, if they would want to.

  28. The debate your post has created is interesting. Keep up the good work. Debating these issues is needed. Without discussion nothing will change.

  29. Dear Susie of Arabia, I've just spent 2 hrs reading your blog and I'm going to read it all very soon. I just want to tell You, how impressed I am with your person and writnig. I trully admire You and hope everythng will turn out good for You. All the best! B.

  30. Hi Chiara - Thanks for the explanation. I still think it strange that we can view it here in KSA and you can't in Canada!

    Hi Mo - Thanks so much. Discussion definitely is healthy!

    Hi Anon-B @ 11:22PM - Wow, thanks! I'm so glad to hear you are enjoying the blog. Thanks for taking the time to let me know.

  31. I had not seen these stories--thanks for posting as it provides perspectives certainly not common for me to see.

  32. I knew this was going to happen. The youth of this country have a long road.

  33. Looks like they are being prosecuted for daring to speak out about how unfair life is there..who would have thought that would happen?

  34. Check this video out ! He is also Saudi typical guy !

  35. I am a Saudi who believes in change. In general, I don't think the show was bad, but what makes Saudis angry is that our problems shouldn't be discussed in a foreign channel. Our problems should be spoken and solved between Saudis ONLY.

    However, I loved the message that was brought in this documentary, which is "Even though there are so many restrictions, we [saudis] love our country, and it is going to change by its people in its own islamic way not the western way."

  36. That is to bad that they are getting charged. Inshallah it will be dropped.
    I really like the coloured abays and would totally love to ware them. It would be a nice brake up from the black. it really is based off of dies that where available at the time. Black die is made from goats milk and is cheep to make. People try and use hadith about the crows but that does not work. There are hadith that even talk about the colours women wore. I would love a white with flowers abaya for summer.
    The guy that is fighting for women, inshallah things work out.
    The Romeo, inshallah he will find a good wife.
    Ah the rock group, It was to sad when the rock battle got closed down, they where not bad, not my thing, but not bad.
    it was nice to see into saudi a bit. Nice blog by the way :D not in the US but got around the block.

  37. until the day before yesterday, I have been able to view the MTV documentary without any problems. but when I try to watch it again today, here is what I read "sorry, we are unable to offer this video to users in your region"

    it was very strange the video was viewbale here in KSA, it will not be anymore, what a pity!

    it's de first time I comment on your blog. sorry for my bad english. I am not fluent in your native langage. I speak rather arabic and french. but I understand when I read english. I like your blog and your sincerity.

  38. yes - MTV are not showing it in Oman

  39. Hi Susie -

    Great blog. I have lived and worked in North Africa and ME (but not in KSA). I watched the MTV documentary, and my question is, the four young Saudis in the film - were any of them raised in the US? I just found it interesting they would champion very Western ideas so easily without ever having been exposed to the Western culture physically. Do you know if any of them spent time in the US/Canda/Europe?

    Good luck with your new life in KSA. I really like your blog and wish you the best.

  40. Hi Susie!

    I have also been wondering about this covering for God issue, as if He would have some dirty thoughts of women when they are praying (astaghferallah!)I understand it only if it would be required for the male also, to cover whole body when in prayer.

    I have a blue abaya and I wear it in Riyadh :) Got tired of black!
    Would be nice to have you visit my blog:

  41. I spent 8 1/2 consecutive years in Arabia, and learned to love them, their culture and their strong family ties - something Americans have thrown to the refuse heap.

    But it troubles me when I see and read articles like this expounding values not the norm in their land and yet when we do interfere to help the peoples of the Middle East these same ideologues ridicule the government or military.

    While Syrian slaughter goes on, it is because the public sector says one thing, but really means another. They want change, and secretly think the world should the same everywhere like where they are from; but ask for a single hour, drop of blood or real action to free these people of despots and military dictators, and the cry is another song.

    If you want to support these great people's march to their own form and vision of freedom, then do so. But do not judge them by one's own western standards.

    I was far safer and treated far better in Arabia than on the dangerous streets back home.

    And this issue concerning women's dress - not a lick in the Koran except to protect them from the elements. It is male ego that enslaves is worse here in the states where some where black and full head covering still...the women should shed this as they are truly a wonder to a real man's eye, and put that cage and cloak over the dirty unshaven and brown teethed faces of those who least deserve these women of grace, nobility and true power - the power of the mind.