Infrastructural development is crucial for the collective development of a society and the functioning of an economy. It encompasses various interconnected physical, structural elements, which ensure sustainable frameworks for development. Such elements include roads, telecommunication, water supply networks, sewer lines, and electrical gridlines, among others. In the modernization era, ICT systems are considered an incredible infrastructure that supports all other infrastructures within a nation in one way or another.
ICT and its associated tools such as the internet encompass one of the new era modes of communication that have attracted many controversies in many conservatism nations due to claims of the capacity to erode the deeply-seated cultural fabrics that make up such societies. Substantive infrastructural development is achievable in societies that are flexible to adapt and layout policies to protect infrastructures that enhance the functioning of an economy. This deliverable calls for flexibility in the cultural norms that may hinder the success of such infrastructures.
The kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) has a strong religious history of Islam. This religious culture encourages the dictation of certain activities within the Saudi Arabian community and hence the operation of certain infrastructures (Blanchard, 2012). This paper presents a study on the factors that impede the success of ICT and its associated infrastructure in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. After the analysis of the results of the study, it will be evident that Islamic tradition is a major factor that influences the various societal changes in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Therefore, challenges of infrastructural development in KSA stem from Islamic traditions or laws.
Minimal literature on the factors that impede modernization of infrastructure exists, addressing specifically the case of KSA. Nevertheless, the available substantive body of knowledge may help to understand various challenges that influence infrastructural development in other parts of the world. This body of information helps to form a solid fundamental basis for conducting research into the Saudi Arabian case involving challenges encountered in the development of ICT and its associated infrastructure.
A myriad of studies has established that a limited number of Arab nations have strategically embarked on developing ICT projects with the objective of providing services to citizens in a more accessible way (ICT and Development, 2002). Nevertheless, comparatively, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates have made some strategic efforts in this end. However, embracement of the ICT and its associated tools such as the internet remains a subject of controversy among some Saudi Arabians especially the conservatism Muslim clergies who support cultural organization in insolence to the adoption of various ICT technologies in the argument that they promote certain cultures that are not consistent with the Muslim faith.
In support of this assertion, a study conducted in KSA by Alshehri, Drew, and Alfarraj (2012) established that the cultural organizations that exist in KSA act as substantial barriers to adopting e-government infrastructures. This finding was arrived at through a survey of 460 citizens involving participants derived from the ICT departments in the KSA public sector. In his scholarly criticism of the research, Blanchard (2012) concluded by reinforcing the Alshehri, Drew, and Alfarraj’s (2012) argument that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia culture is influenced by Islamic laws.
In different research by Shavit (2006), some of the KSA citizens attribute modernization with devilish forces. Such citizens also receive the tools for modernization, among them being the ICT with dismay. The central point of an argument by the group of people inclined to this line of thought who were interviewed by Shavit (2006) cited modernization as a western phenomenon that intends to fragment the identity of the Muslim religion and its teachings. A particular concern of the researcher is on the Al-Qaeda, which he portrays as an extremist Islam religious group that aims at Islamizing KSA people by teaming them up against western modernization efforts. However, according to Shavit (2006), this argument contrasts the stand of the political leaders of the KSA who have made substantive efforts towards laying ICT infrastructure in KSA to enhance communication and service delivery in the public sector.
Political leaders find the arguments that modernization is devilish as largely misplaced. Consequently, non-governmental and governmental bodies are encouraging people to promote and support the development of ICT infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. Indeed, according to Al-Turki and Tang (1998), Saudi Arabia, coupled with Oman, is formulating various policies for enhancing the development of ICT strategies in every arm of the public sector. This outcome is perhaps an incredible success of the early attempts of KSA to commit large amounts of funds in the development of ICT infrastructure as from 1975 to 1985 in which “130 billion pounds were spent to develop the Saudi ICT infrastructure and economy” (Al-Turki and Tang, 1998, p.94).
In preparation for the full operation of the e-government, the KSA government supports and encourages people, coupled with various organizations, to adopt new technologies. Unfortunately, guidelines, which are clear on the usage of ICT, are yet to be in place so that organizations can make use of ICT systems in virtually all their activities. Al-Turki and Tang (1998) identify this hitch as an enormous challenge in the usage of the ICT infrastructure in KSA.
Modernization, which is enhanced through the development of various infrastructures such as ICT, is a subject that is being wrestled with by various people within KSA. This assertion is reinforced by a documentary directed by Mill (2008) depicting KSA personalities who work tirelessly to curtail modernization efforts through pushing for the conservation of Islamic traditions. The tale of the documentary revolves around Prince Saud bin Abdul Mohsin bin Adul Aziz Al Saud. The prince is the governor of Hail province. From his ambitions and problems facing the people of Hail province, modernization is one of the principal concerns.
According to him, the impact of modernization in KSA is to make Saudi Arabians do things such as anybody else who has been carried by the wave. Mill’s (2008) documentary develops the theme of the inability of KSA to remain immune to change through modernization amid the efforts to block its penetration by some resistant forces of change. In this line of thought, Shavit (2006) argues that KSA is intensively protected by religious police who have been recognized for punishing all people who attempt to abandon the KSA’s Islamic law as the religion of the state. This argument implies that the adoption of ICT infrastructures as the most viable tool for enhancing modernization remains a subject of controversy among some KSA people. Hence, adopting modernization in KSA is a challenging endeavor, particularly if the Islamic tradition is to be contradicted by it.
Adopting ICT infrastructure to enhance the operation of the government in the effort to ensure that services are brought in close vicinity to citizens implies that modernism forms of governance, such as the e-government, are likely to break down bureaucratic structures of governance. The reception of such infrastructures in KSA receives magnificent objection since KSA people prefer and support the existence of Bureaucratic government, which is in control of public expenditures (Khatib, 2012). This preference makes Khatib (2012) concludes in his research on the relationship between oil revenues and infrastructural developments in KSA in1983 to 2007 that the support of bureaucracy in governance of public resources encompasses one of the reasons why the increased revenue from oil does not reflect a similar expenditure of the revenue in the construction of infrastructures.
Apart from the consideration of the challenge of the development of ICT, other infrastructures in KSA are equally affected by the Islamic culture. For example, infrastructures for promotion of gender lag behind those of nations that have already modernized. A good case is in KSA, where education infrastructures are crawling towards modernization. A study conducted by Hamdan (2005) shows an immense disparity in the educational achievements attained by women and men in KSA. This disparity accrues from the failure of the full modernization of educational infrastructures to cater to the girl child. The girl child is also shielded from full participation in public life. She has limited participation in education hence constituting an issue that is dictated by society’s status and the Islamic tradition.
It sounds imperative to infer that modernization in education infrastructures is limited to help in maintaining the status valued in the KSA society. In fact, Islamic regulations make it hard to implement certain infrastructures that are vital for the collective modernization of the KSA society. From the critical assessment of the literature on the challenge of developing infrastructure in the KSA, it is evident that there is a scholarly knowledge gap in the challenges of infrastructure modernization in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) since most of the studies identify challenges though failing to offer possible solutions. The current research sought to seal this scholarly gap.
Riyadh was identified as the place where the study was to be based. The data garnered during the study is mainly quantitative. Data was collected through survey interviews in which the questionnaires used were structured such that they captured the perception of the Saudi Arabian Muslim region’s cultural inclinations by targeting how they think subscribing to such norms influences their willingness to accept and embrace ICT infrastructure and its associated tools of modernization such as the internet. The structured survey question is used since they do not require additional information from the respondents deployed in the research (Leedy & Ormrod, 2001).
The survey interviews were conducted face-to-face to help the researchers seek clarification for the responses given where appropriate. Since it was practically impossible to interview all residents in Riyadh, the sample size was selected, comprising 18 respondents who were students from Riyadh University. University students were chosen since they are more knowledgeable about the benefits of modern communication infrastructures than those people who do not have any university education.
After the interviewers prepared questionnaires to be administered to the audience and alerting the randomly selected students on the scheduled day for the interview, the interviewers garnered the necessary materials for the research. These were an audio recorder and writing materials in case of failure of the audio recorder. To help in the analysis of the information contained in the audio recorder, every student was required to identify him or herself first by name, gender, age, the course is taken, and the year of study. The first question sort to garner information on the infrastructures that the students believed are more impacted by their Muslim religious laws and regulations.
For ease of research, with regard to this question, the researchers sort to know how the interviewees selected social places to go for parties, the kind of materials they accessed online, and whether their libraries censored some of the contents accessible online such as online dating. Apart from the social, recreational places, educational, military, and communication infrastructure such as online sites visited by the students, the researchers also wanted to know whether any other infrastructure that they perceived or had learned from their religion of families was inconsistent with Muslim faith teachings. After capturing this data, analysis was computed using the percentage of the students’ responses for each infrastructure to aid in the interpretation of the data. The following section discusses the findings and implications on the impacts of Muslim laws and regulations on the infrastructural deployments in the KSA.
Findings and Implications
The goal of the analysis of data garnered is to come up with responses to the key research questions of the research as enumerated the research proposal.Upon conducting the research, all the 18 (100 percent of the total interviewees) students felt that marriage is a holy matrimony that should be treated as such. They saw online dating as a departure from the Muslims’ teaching about marriage and its role in the society. They also felt that many of the sites portray sexually arousing materials causing wrong desires to persons to whom they are not attached to in any way or in a manner that is blessed with regard to the teachings of Allah. Of these 18 students ,13 (72 percent of the total students interviewed) felt that, even if the internet was important in that it availed the information necessary for them to successfully complete their studies, restriction of materials that are accessible to students was necessary.
10 (56 percent of the total interviewees) of the students felt that the only good places to conduct social functions are only those that enable them to grow their faith and knowledge that foster love for Allah and His teachings. 8 of them felt that the era of modernization was at hand, and that people should be permitted to make their own choices without being compelled to comply with certain religious teachings. 7 (39 percent of the total students interviewed) felt that deployment of military information systems was vital in developing good surveillance against potential enemies likely to invade their nations. However, 11(61 percent of the total students interviewed) felt that the modernized military surveillance systems through better information systems was inappropriate since modernized military infrastructures have the ability to cause more losses of lives should they be used in the case of an enemy’s attack. Based on these findings, the use of the internet as a means of fulfilling certain societal anticipations such as marriage attracts the most negative perception.
The findings of the research confirm that Islamic tradition is a major factor that influences the kind of societal changes in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Modernization infrastructures that attempt to alter religious cultural norms determined by Muslims traditions are the ones that are highly influenced by Muslim regulations and laws. The argument is evidenced by 100 anonymous agreements by all students that the internet may impair social practices such as marriage.
The implications of this research is that, in the era of communication through computer mediated technologies such as the internet, cultural changes are necessary in the nations that object certain ways of life of people in global villages arising during the communication interactions. For instance, using the internet-facilitated forms of communication such as e-mails, ads are encountered where certain cultural norms are not consistent with cultural inclinations of certain religion’s culture. For instance, a KSA traditional Muslim may encounter ads portraying women without hijabs, yet this practice the culturally acceptable code of dressing for women.
Laying down infrastructure carrying such matter that elicit cultural fights and using it to enhance the forms of modern communication may be received with criticism unless some forms of filtering the contents of the web pages are put in place. In this end, Teitelbaum (2002) maintains that deployment of the internet, as a tool for modernization, will continue to attract mixed reactions from different groups of people in the KSA for several years to come in the events that the implication of the internet on culture remains controlled.
Expounding on the implication of this study, the reader will agree with Teitelbaum (2002) that the government of the KSA applies double standards to strategic focus of embracing technology in driving the economy of KSA. In fact, while the government accepts and encourages people to use the internet to drive business success, it also limits the accessibility to certain web content by citizens in the effort to ensure that its citizens are not impacted by globalization, which is rapidly spread by modern forms of communication.
The point of argument is that any modernization endeavor should not impair the practice of Islamic transition. Indeed, all forms of modernization that put Islamic tradition on compromise are banned by the KSA. For example, the yahoo club was banned on the basis that it was sexual in nature and that it promoted unacceptable sexual behavior within the doctrines of Islam (Teitelbaum, 2002). Such regulations are driven by the need to conserve and protect Muslims’ regulation on how a society should live and retain their cultural artifacts including dressing codes.
The various infrastructures in the KSA are meant to support societal development. The Saudi people support the effort to modernize the infrastructure while objecting what that they think has the capacity to erode their Muslim regulations and laws. Based on the study conducted through a survey of 18 students at Riyadh University, the study found an above 50-percent support for putting in place strategies that will ensure that moderation of infrastructures that influence issues that may lead to the erosion of the Muslim social fabrics does not occur. Since this research was principally based on the data garnered from university students, with gender and age among other demographics being taken into consideration, it is the position of the researchers that conclusions of the study are not a function of educational attainment. They are principally based on Muslims’ religious cultural influences.
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