Saudi Leadership supports the comeback of the most prominent forum of understanding and dialogue, Saudi Arabia has ever known; Souk Okaz, the oldest Arab democratic forum is reborn to regain its vital role but in a modernized form.
Saudi intellectual elite annually gathers with their guests from other Arab countries in Souk Okaz, which is located near the city of Ta’if (in the West of Saudi Arabia) to celebrate all that’s new in literature and the arts, with a great patronage of the State leadership that finds this event a good opportunity for understanding and dialogue among creators and opinion leaders.
Souk Okaz is an annual notable event that Saudi used to organize and Arab from different regions used to attend, almost 1300 years ago. This reflects their awareness of the importance of literature, especially poetry in their life. Before establishing the organized state that supports and sponsors such events, Souk Okaz was held to help in building bridges for understanding and dialogue and boosting the spirit of co-existence in the region.
The old Souk Okaz that some would go to describe it as “the oldest democratic forum” in the region, enjoys deep roots in the Arabian history as being the most outstanding cultural gala along several years that witnessed rich events including the lively poetic debates from which it derived its name.
Arabic linguists believe that the word “Okaz” is derived from the Arabic word “Ta’koz” which means bragging about ancestors and noble moralities, noting that describing this big event as a market “Souk” not because it is just a place for the trade as this word has other different meanings in Arabic like “forum” and “club” and it may be said that it’s the precise equivalent of the current-common term “festival”.
Souk Okaz, in its old version, used to last for 20 days starting on the first day of Dhu’l-Qi’dah (the eleventh month of the Hijri year). In the presence of several literary delegations from all over the Arabian Peninsula, merchants used to show their goods like dates, honey, butter, clothes, and camels for sale.
Souk Okaz Festival
Unfortunately, Souk Okaz stopped for 13 centuries, yet it remained actively present in the cultural Arab memory until King Abdullah bin Abdullaziz (1923-2015) decided to relaunch it establishing a bridge for cultural interaction among Saudis and the world—Along the past 12 years, Souk Okaz festival was annually held on a regular basis to become a cornerstone of the world-renowned Saudi events, in which the elite of intellectuals and litterateurs from all over the Arab world gathers with the Saudi youth in an enriched program lasting for five days under its popular tent. The program includes lectures, forums, and cultural, literal, and scientific evenings of interest to the Arabian cultural spheres. The intellectuals and litterateurs gather to hold discussions, exchange their different experiences, pose the cultural and ideological issues for discussion, and conclude perspectives to culturally and socially serve the Arab Nation.
The Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, the official supervisory body of Souk Okaz, seeks to boost its role by developing mega projects that could move it to a new stage in line with the various developments that Saudi Arabia currently witnesses. It is a stage of turning Souk Okaz into an integrated heritage tourist destination. The Commission works on establishing an integral city under the name of “Souk Okaz” to be the first integrated heritage tourist destination in the Kingdom and to be globally classified within the most important cultural destinations as it is based on the heritage value of the location and the memorable experience in Arab minds.
New Ta’if gathers modernity and heritage
Souk Okaz city lies in the North of Ta’if city as an essential part of the new Ta’if to include the new residential project in Al Ta’if that is big enough to join around 750,000 people, the new international Ta’if airport that is set to host five million travelers in its first stage, Ta’if Techno Valley to be implemented by King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology as an essential development center with distinct and special projects, Ta’if university campus, and the Industrial City to be built on 12 million meters squared in its first stage.