Unemployed Saudis discover irony

Unemployed Saudis discover irony
Young job seekers in Saudi Arabia have started sarcastically sending job adverts to each other, prompting sociologists' study.
3 min read
17 November, 2014
Saudi youth are finding comedy a useful outlet for day-to-day frustrations [Getty]

"Do you need a job? Don't worry about being unemployed, there are vacancies waiting for you. And these aren't any old jobs, they are top-notch positions the like of which you never would have dreamed."

Saudis have recently been exchanging messages like this on the popular mobile messaging service WhatsApp. The "advertised" vacancies even include high-level ministerial positions such as minister of health, minister of information, and even the deputy minister of defence.

The messages usually end, "pass this on to others if you need a job, and may God reward you".

At the end of last week, following the appointment of the new governor of Najran, young people shared messages of consolation, informing prospective candidates that they had missed out.

Graduate unemployment

The number of unemployed in Saudi Arabia in 2012 was 629,000 - or 12 percent of the population - according to the Central Department of Statistics and Information. The total number of job seekers, according to the national unemployment benefits programmme, is 1.9 million, more than 20 percent of which are university graduates.

Saudi youths have shared job adverts over the internet for years. But now they are using self-deprecating irony and sarcasm to poke fun at their situation.

Social media may have helped them discover and refine their satirical skills.

     The stresses in our lives have changed us and we enjoy making fun of our situation.
- Iman Abdallah, jobseeker

"I can only smile and feel amazed by our situation," said Iman Abdallah, a young job seeker. "The stresses in our lives have changed us and we enjoy making fun of our situation."

Sami Saeed and his friend Munir Mohammad both think the seemingly new development of using humour to deflect one's hardships needs proper study.

"Have we changed or has social media helped us discover that we had hidden comedic skills?" asked Saeed.

"The Egyptians are known for being witty, and using comedy to help them deal with their problems," added Mohammad. "It seems we are now competing against them."

Coping mechanism

Sociologist Ferial Abd al-Aziz attributes the spread of the phenomenon to the changing social and economic conditions that are putting pressure on a large section of Saudi society.

"The stresses and demands of modern life have forced people to express their concerns through comedy," he said. "This use of irony shows the psychological suffering of people going through problems."

According to Abd al-Aziz, social and economic pressures are mounting in the kingdom. In the past, most basic needs were simple and guaranteed - but the cost of living is rising, as is unemployment, which is contributing to a housing crisis.

The poor quality of some government services is a concern, as is the introduction of "support" organisations that seem to drain money from families, such as the Sahir electronic system for determining when traffic laws are broken.

"Some Saudi families have had to pay a large part of their income to the Sahir system because of the number of their traffic violations," said the sociologist. "They rely on foreign drivers who don't know the country's traffic laws, and the reckless driving of younger family members causes problems. All this has made people need to find a way to vent their frustrations through comedy."

Abd al-Aziz sincerely hopes this newfound sense of fun becomes the subject of serious scientific study by specialist research centres.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.