The #truthbetold – How Saudi’s UTURN and @omarhuss are tackling taboos through social media

By its very nature, a taboo can be difficult to talk about. Breaking a taboo is traditionally objected to by elements of a society. What we’re seeing in Saudi is an effort to tackle taboos through social media. One of the leading digital and social media agencies is Jeddah-based UTURN, and its founders and presenter Omar Hussein have taken it on themselves to tackle sensitive subjects. Their idea is simple – create scenarios whereby they provoke Saudis to respond to the situation through actors and staged behaviours, record their reactions, and package this for distribution over the internet.

Named #truthbetold or #الحق_ينقال in Arabic, Omar Hussein and UTURN have tackled several issues to date since they began their series at the end of November. The first, in partnership with Ikea Saudi Arabia, was the issue of Saudi women working as cashiers. An actor in the queue would begin cursing the female cashier to prompt a reaction from the audience around him. The video is below and is only in Arabic. However, it is worth watching just to understand the issue and the responses of those featured.

The second, launched a month after at the end of December, is on the issue of alleged racism towards foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, and was staged in the roast chicken chain Tazaj. Again, the video is in Arabic but the body language of those in the set and who are not aware of acting can be read by any person watching.

Released at the end of January, the third episode tackles the issue of child workers in Jeddah. Done in partnership with the Fatoor Faris restaurant, people are seen responding to a Saudi actor abusing a child actor who is pretending to sell him gum.

Each video has been watched over half a million times, and, even more importantly, UTURN is using Facebook as a means for Saudis to discuss these issues. The idea is so simple and yet so powerful. Thank you UTURN and Omar Hussein for doing this. I wish others were as creative and as brave as you.

And I wish that communicators would look at Saudi, a country which is viewed as the most traditional and conservative in the region, to understand how we can better use social media to change perceptions, attitudes and behaviours. You and others in the Kingdom are leading the rest of the Gulf in terms of how we use social media for change.

A German Woman for Every Saudi – a new type of teaser campaign?

Being a Brit, I’m used to sexual innuendos being used in advertising. Nothing sells better than sex. But this type of thing normally gets pulled up at immigration when it comes to Saudi. So image my surprise at the below advert, which can be interpreted as ‘a German woman for every Saudi man’. The adverts were seen yesterday in Jeddah and I’ll be intrigued to see how long they’re up for. It certainly redefines the concept of a teaser campaign.

A Geman woman for every Saudi man. It's as simple as that.

A Geman woman for every Saudi man. It’s as simple as that.

Visiting Saudi Arabia’s Moon Mountain

Here’s another set of amazing images from Jeddah-based photographer Thamer Ossra. Moon Mountain is only 45 minutes drive from Jeddah and is named after its stunning landscape. The views from the top of Moon Mountain are remarkable. Enjoy the images and I hope you also get the chance to visit.

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How much variety and discrimination is there in the Gulf?

The GCC is as diverse and complicated as any other part of the globe (credit:

Looking on in from the outside, most expatriates see the Arabian Peninsula as one monotonous geography. The women wear black (unless they’re Kuwaiti) and the mean wear white. The language is the same, and everyone is a Muslim. And that’s the Gulf.

Well, hardly. Each country is unique, and offers a wealth of diversity in terms of culture, history and opinions. The range of accents in Bahrain is so prominent that a local will be able to tell where a compatriot may be from how the greeting alone.

Saudi is the most diverse country in the region. Its twenty million nationals come from all four corners of the world, and don’t be surprised to meet a Saudi whose roots trace back to Indonesia, China, or Western Africa. The Kingdom’s Western Region is the richest melting pot you’ll come across, thanks to hundreds of years of pilgrimage to the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. Often foreigners think that Dubai or Doha are the two cities that offer the greatest contrast of cultures and groups, but they don’t come close to what Jeddah has to offer.

And Christians in Kuwait and Bahrain? And a Jewish community in Manama? Yes, they’re locals (but there’s not many of them).

And of course, with variety comes discrimination. There’s a good deal of nepotism across the Gulf mainly due to the tribal, bedouin nature. It’s not uncommon to find a certain group dominating in one company – it’s not so much where a person is from as often as what their tribal name is. Many Saudis don’t use their tribal names any more. And there’s also discrimination based on region (Jeddah versus Riyadh, Dubai versus Abu Dhabi etc), on the history behind the family name (in other words how far back can the family’s genealogy be traced), and on religion (which mathab or religious affiliation a person adheres to).

While this isn’t unique to the Gulf (tell me a place where there isn’t any discrimination) what I do find interesting is the institutionalized discrimination in certain parts of the GCC. Some states, most notably Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and Oman count GCC nationals as locals when it comes to hiring and nationalization quotas. The UAE and Qatar do not – when they say local they mean local. For a European the difference in policy between the two groups is hard to fathom (especially when considering the relatively small populations of both Qatar and the UAE when compared to Saudi Arabia).

So, the next time you’re sitting in the coffee ship and sipping on your coffee do remember to ask yourself where the gentleman in white is from. You may be surprised at how much you can learn about a region that is full of culture and contrast.

AlBaik… The best fast food in the world? And it’s Saudi!

AlBaik. If you’ve been to Jeddah the name is unforgettable. AlBaik is delicious, jaw-dropping, explosion-in-the-mouth chicken. Either broasted or fried, AlBaik chicken is so popular that the restaurant chain does travel packs for plane-bound travelers.

The chain is Saudi-owned and based in the country’s Western Region (think Jeddah, Mecca and Medinah). Next to AlBaik no other fast food chain gets a look in. This place is so popular that when AlBaik raises its prices the news makes national headlines (and you can read it here if you don’t believe me).

Here’s two clips of AlBaik from Youtube. One is from the Travel Channel. The other is AlBaik opening after prayer time (trust me, this clip isn’t an exaggeration). I will start blogging more on Saudi culture so enjoy!

And again, trust me, the below isn’t a fake video.

A female Saudi #graffiti artist? In Jeddah?

Jeddah is a remarkable place, a city of seven million souls which is the most diverse city in the Middle East bar none. There’s a phrase which is often used when talking about Jeddah, which is Jeddah ghrayr, or Jeddah is different/unique. Here’s one video which I spotted on my Tweetdeck from BBC journalist Gabriela Pomeroy (@gabrielapomeroy). The video, which has made the official selection for the Sheffield International Documentary Film Festival 2012, gives us a brief insight into one young female Saudi artist who uses graffiti to express herself in Balad, the oldest part of Jeddah.

Did you ever think you’d be watching a video about a female Saudi graffiti artist who works in broad daylight, in Saudi Arabia? As they say, Jeddah ghrayr!

Paint The Way from Next Door Films on Vimeo.