Much of Saudi mobile-phone development has been driven by the same forces that have driven it in other countries: the phones themselves have gotten smaller, cheaper, and more powerful since 1985, the year the first mobile-phone call was made in the United Kingdom (Warman 2010). This evolution guaranteed wider and deeper mobile dispersion throughout all societies, save only the most closed, such as North Korea. This presents one with a small problem in perception: Saudi Arabia is thoughtless assumed by many people to be almost as rigidly controlled as the Hermit Kingdom. However, although Saudi society is deeply conservative for its citizens and foreign visitors, it is by no means a closed one, having been increasingly opened to the world since World War II by its role as a primary exporter of oil, and purchaser of Western armaments. Also, Saudi nationals travel the world, bringing home many of the world’s thoughts and technologies. But there is another aspect to consider.
There is a popular misconception that new technologies are immediately threatening to traditional societies like that of the Saudis. But this is not necessarily the case. Consider that the introduction of ultrasound scanning technology led to a greater imbalance of boys over girls throughout the Mideast, India, and China, mediated by the traditional power of men over women there. New technology did indeed change those societies, but only by increasing the power of tradition, not by diminishing it. So it may be that, in Saudi society, the traditional power of men over women there has been a leading force in growing mobile-phone use. The primary reason for this may be that GPS technology enables one to find where a mobile phone user is, and so a particular person can now be tracked 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We can probably assume that this ability is of interest to fathers, husbands, and boyfriends throughout Saudi society. Another example is the extent to which male to female sexual harassment has increased with mobile phone use, particularly among teenagers, again reinforcing a cultural tradition of exploiting “unguarded” women. One recent report stated that “pornographic material accounted for nearly 70 percent of messages exchanged by teenagers. Abdullah ibn Mohammed Al-Rasheed, associate professor at the College of Dawa and Information in Riyadh, who conducted the study, said 88 percent of girls had been victims of such misuse.” (Bayazid, 2009).
However, this is not to say that there will be no breakdown of traditional society at all, but rather that it will come slower, and be all the more threatening as a result. Again, to cite the case of ultrasound technology, the ominous gender imbalance has become an issue of legitimate world-wide concern, as well as in the countries where it is found. It must eventually force a reduction in female infanticide, in the process effecting a powerful cultural revolution. In Saudi Arabia as of 2009, camera-phones had been banned, yet were widely used nevertheless courtesy a pervasive black market in such phones. Black markets are inherently destabilizing: buyers in that market are men and women looking for additional mobile phones that their government, fathers, mothers, husbands, wives, and lovers will not know about.
In conclusion, we may hypothesize that the explosive growth of mobile phone technology in Saudi Arabia is a good thing for the same reasons it is a good thing (on balance) everywhere else, but that its greatest social consequences are yet to come.
Bayazid, T. 2009, Trading Media. Tharaa Bayazid: Blog. Available from:
Mareeg 2012, Saudi Arabia ranks first globally in mobile phone use statistics. Available from:
Warman 2010, Mobile phones: a brief history. Available from: