Suicidal Saudis Hit a High
Saudi youth are losing hope and succumbing to despair, with the rise in suicide figures. (Image source Shawn Baldwin, for the New York Times)
Suicide has become a troubling phenomenon in Saudi Arabia, particularly among young people. The rise in suicide cases has been accompanied by growing rates of poverty and unemployment, as well as a lack of opportunities for Saudi youth. Recently, a number of stories have come to light in which cases of suicide involving young Saudis were linked to economic issues.
In 2010, statistics from the Saudi interior ministry indicated that there were 787 cases of suicide in Saudi Arabia in 2009 (approximately two per day), up by 39 from 2008. The statistics indicate that from 1994 to 2006, incidents of suicide rose by 185 percent.
Studies from three Saudi academics show that 84 percent of those who attempted suicide were under the age of 35, and 58 percent were male. In addition to these statistics, there is the reality that most failed suicide attempts are not counted in the figures.
The recorded number of suicides is undoubtedly well below the actual figure, due to the fact that families often refuse to send the body of a deceased relative for an autopsy. Similarly, many prefer to attribute death to "unspecified causes" without an autopsy, which makes the government data incomplete.
Suicide’s Socioeconomic Links
The phenomenon of youth suicide is particularly distressing given the role of religion and social pressure in the lives of individuals. One would not expect suicide to reach epidemic proportions in a conservative country where killing oneself is strictly forbidden by religion.
Likewise, Saudi Arabia is a country rich in natural resources that would ostensibly provide great opportunities for its youth in terms of both education and work. We must ask ourselves why it is that many young people in a conservative and oil-rich country are unexpectedly resorting to suicide.
One would not expect suicide to reach epidemic proportions in a conservative country where killing oneself is strictly forbidden by religion.The first thing that comes to mind is the hardships faced by the youth in Saudi Arabia. While some media outlets have attempted to depict these suicides as the result of mental or psychological illnesses, many of the cases were directly linked to issues of poverty, unemployment, and perceived lack of future prospects.
This means that one of the motivating factors in this phenomenon is the dismal economic and social situation of a sizeable segment of the Saudi population. Those who do not take their own lives face daily hardships that no one should have to bear.
The rise in suicide rates has reopened the discussion surrounding the failures of economic development brought on by a combination of a lack of conscious planning, rampant corruption, and the complete absence of transparency and accountability.
Saudi citizens complain of a lack of services resulting from administrative and financial corruption and the continuous embezzlement of public funds that have led to a catastrophic failure in establishing sound infrastructure in the country, particularly in the education and health sectors.
These failures in development, along with poor planning, have produced unemployment, unequal distribution of wealth, rising poverty rates, and a lack of liberties in even the most basic matters of life. The combination of these shortcomings have led to many young people in the kingdom having a poor quality of life.
The rise in suicide rates also indicates the inability of the youth in Saudi Arabia to adjust to and accept this unpleasant reality. Suicide is one way in which young people rebel and reject their situation.
Suicide can be interpreted as a desperate form of protest attributed to a perceived inability to change the status quo. It stands in stark contrast to more proactive and effective forms of protest such as writing and posting videos on the Internet, marches, and demonstrations demanding change at the universities, and civil initiatives advocating a new culture and reality in Saudi Arabia.
As dissatisfaction grows, the youth increasingly seek to protest their situation in all ways possible, and thus, suicide becomes a form of protest that reflects the growing problems faced by the young generation coupled with a lack of practical solutions.
The youth are frustrated, and suicide is only one sign of their difficult circumstances. Others find negative outlets for their discontent in crime and various forms of self-destructive behavior that harm those around them as well.
Lack of Official Response
Young Saudis are no longer convinced by government propaganda. Such propaganda focuses on a complete cultural renaissance and Saudi excellence in a variety of fields, using stilted and hollow language that the young generation cannot relate to.
Moreover, talk of Saudis’ higher standard of living in comparison with their neighbors does not fool the youth. Through the modern media they can see how much neighboring countries have surpassed their own with regard to some basic organizational and developmental issues.
Young Saudis are searching for real change that can reflect positively on their lives and grant them the opportunity to be free and express themselves. They also strive to make use of their country’s resources to make life easier and solve the problems of rising housing costs, unemployment, poverty, and corruption.
They want their expectations to be understood and their demands for change to be met. They want someone to understand their language and how they express themselves and their needs.
The rise in suicide also reflects the inability of government officials to narrow the continually widening gap between themselves and younger Saudis.The rise in suicide also reflects the inability of government officials to narrow the continually widening gap between themselves and younger Saudis. They do not understand the language of the youth or their demands, and they still insist on using empty rhetoric.
The authorities’ response is unpersuasive for young Saudis who think and express themselves in another language and want changes in keeping with the changing times. Saudi youth refuse to lie to themselves and pretend that all is well in the country when the situation is growing increasingly dire.
The abolition of youth forums such as TEDx NAJD and the Choosing Your Career Conference (CYCC) have emerged within the context of the absence of a shared language between Saudi youth and government officials.
This leaves the authorities with few tools with which to engage with young people. They resort to outdated methods that are no longer capable of having any influence except creating more frustration and anger among young Saudis.
Perhaps the response of some young people who attempted to hold the CYCC on Twitter instead confirms the difference in language and methods and the ability of the youth to overcome the old mechanisms of repression.
Trying to block and limit the youth erodes their spirit and exhausts their energies, which can only be detrimental to the country and its future. It does not appear that government officials are aware of the size of the problem created by fighting the youth and their expectations.
It is the mentality of those who only know how to operate on obsolete ideologies in dealing with new issues that creates the conditions for such desperate acts on the part of Saudis. Suicide rates are rising, and with them so is the anger of the youth and their rejection of the status quo.
What will follow can only be other forms of expressing this discontent.
By Badr al-Ibrahim