Saudi Arabia: Cafes promote a new culture of dialogue


The King Abdul Aziz Center for National Dialogue launched a new project based on the concept of spreading dialogue through coffee shops.

It incorporates ideas such as distributing a number of publications and booklets that deal with culture and dialogue and their cultural and social roles in the community.

Deputy General Secretary of the center Fahd bin Sultan Al-Sultan said: “The newly born Initiatives Commission at the center aims to provide ideas to communicate with the public outside the center, as well as to activate the role of employees in decision-making and implementation of their proposals on the ground.

“The aim of the first phase is to measure the extent of the community response to the idea and agreeing with other cafes to help apply it in various regions of the Kingdom.”

He conveyed his thanks and appreciation to companies and coffee shops that have supported this project in order to promote a culture of dialogue.

“We addressed leading cafes to start implementing this project, which aims to spread the culture of reading first,” he said.

“The first phase began in Riyadh with the involvement of a number of famous cafes.”

Abdullah Al-Khurayef, chairman of the Initiatives Commission, said: “The commission seeks closer relations with staff at the center and listen to their ideas and suggestions and discuss the possibility of their implementation.”

He noted the commission has a number of ideas that are studied thoroughly before stakeholders are contacted about them.

The growing number of coffee shops in Riyadh gives a different dimension to the city because as they are no longer simply a place for relaxation and comfort but offer facilities to discuss sports, culture, science, technical issues and finance. They sometimes solve some dilemmas of society.

Mansour Al-Qasem, the general manager of the Hediard and Arabesque Group, told Arab News: “Most of my clients are intellectuals and from the upper classes, especially princes, businessmen, and poets. Football players in Saudi Arabia are also my clients”.

When asked if there were any changes to the nature of coffee shops in Riyadh, he replied: “Coffee shops changed the face of Riyadh, leading to large numbers of cultured people meeting in one place, leading to increased business.”

When Arab News questioned Al-Qasem about the extent of development in the food and drink sector, he replied: “The quality of food and drink is the main factor. The main problem we face is the lack of knowledge for prices, because officials do not rate restaurants and cafes. This is what makes the problem more complex in determining prices. Thus all restaurants and cafes offer the same price without discrimination. Some cafes offer fantastic furniture and services to the public. Others offer less than that, but still the prices are the same.”

Al-Owayed Coffee Shop is one of the most famous and ancient cafes in Riyadh visited by athletes, journalists, writers and businessmen. It is an outlet for them to talk in a free atmosphere, and as a result the coffee shop attracts high-end clientele.

Coffee shops have become a part of the social scene in Riyadh, because they are not just offering coffee but also a place for people from all walks of life to gather.

Some coffee shops gather journalists and politicians to talk about the world news and discuss it together in a very friendly way. Some other cafes are for normal people to have fun and others are for sports and football fans.

“Friends come to my coffee shop to talk to each other about their problems in life. I open the shop at six in the morning and offer a wonderful cup of coffee for people who go to work early. I wait for my customers to come. Some of them come very early, others come at midday and the rest come at night to stay up talking and enjoy conversations about various topics,” said Abu Ahmed Al-Ahmed, a coffee shop supervisor.

Omer Nejem is a client at Arabesque coffee shop that is well known for attracting people from the media and arts and culture. He said: “Most of my friends are journalists and lawyers. They like to share the same topics especially politics, in particular, the sad situation in Syria. I think this coffee shop has become like a news channel, so if you want to know the news, come with me to the coffee shop.”

Osama Mohammad, calls the coffee shop where he works a playground.

“Football fans come to watch the matches, especially those between Barcelona and Real Madrid. My coffee shop becomes full and sometimes you can’t pass through the crowds. It’s even crazier when a goal is scored.”

A Chinese coffee shop was reportedly opened to allow patrons to express their grief through tears. The cost of visiting the café is 50 yuan ($6) per hour. Newspaper announced this cafe offers napkins and peppermint oil to relieve patrons’ pain. It also offers onions and red pepper to help those who want to shed tears.