Ramadan 2021: Ahmad Al Shugairi’s new show 'Seen' charts Saudi Arabia’s rapid transformation

The Saudi presenter returns to television after seven years away from the small screen.

Ahmad Al Shugairi hosts his Ramadan show 'Seen' using a combination of wit, dry humour and hard facts. MBC
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It all begins with a question.

That's the premise behind Seen, the entertaining and informative show hosted by Ahmad Al Shugairi.

Named after the letter that begins "so’al", the Arabic word for question, the programme airs every night on MBC 1 at 6.10pm in Saudi Arabia (7.10pm UAE time) and marks the return of the popular Saudi personality after seven years away from the small screen.

Judging by the opening two episodes, Al Shugairi picks up where he left off. Seen is the natural successor to his previous Ramadan series Khawatir.

While that hit show, running for 11 seasons from 2005 to 2015, suggested ways in which Saudi Arabia could achieve its potential – from investment in science and technology, to harnessing the vitality of its youthful population – Seen explores the rapid strides the kingdom is making as part of its Vision 2030.

By tracking some of these changes in the series, Al Shugairi aims to inspire both a local and regional audience.

For fellow Saudis, Seen is an optimistic report card on their homeland's progress. But for the kingdom to truly reach its potential, Al Shugairi says citizens must play their part.

“The aim is to be in the top 10 in all the major fields,” he says in one of the monologues interspersing the show.

“But how do we that? It is a joint effort. We stand in the middle of what was achieved in the past and where we can go in the future. We all have to work together.”

As for the wider Arab world, Seen hopes to be revelatory for both tourists and investors.

The first episode, broadcast last Tuesday, served as a season preview with Al Shugairi visiting emerging tourist and government initiatives, including a safari park in the Arabian Desert, and solar power and wind farms.

Judging by the reaction on social media, where Seen trend in Saudi Arabia hours after the first episode, the show has hit upon the right mix of information and inspiration.

Here are three other reasons why Seen is worth watching.

1. It is informative and quirky

It takes considerable skill for a TV show to make "digital transformation" look and sound entertaining. Seen does it through dry and quirky humour, which courses through each half-hour episode.

When it comes to such hefty topics, the show breaks them down through real-life practical examples and hard data.

For example, Al Shugairi demonstrates how all government services, from simple utility transactions to renewing passports can now be done online.

The same goes for getting married.

In a winning segment, the show visits a marriage ceremony and observes how it no longer involves any paperwork.

Instead, the marriage contract is all drawn up on an iPad, the bride and groom seal the deal through fingerprint scans and a confirmation of their union is delivered through text message.

2. It is visually arresting

Seen employs many of the shooting techniques that made Khawatir groundbreaking.

With so much to get through in 30 minutes, not to mention the need to keep some of the dry subject matter appealing to a digitally native audience, Seen is visually frantic, with quick cuts, lavish pan shots and the occasional animation sequence.

When it came to on-screen talent and talkers, Seen has an aversion for long-winded discussions. Each monologue by Al Shugairi is crisp and casual, while interviews with officials are ruthlessly edited to maintain the pace.

3. It marks the return of a much-loved Saudi personality

Al Shugairi's decision to call time on Khawatir in 2017 shocked the regional television industry. Even during its eleventh season, the show was never in danger of running out of steam.

As he told The National in a rare interview in 2019, Al Shugairi wanted time away after more than a decade in the limelight.

With Seen, he has picked the ideal vehicle to get back on track. The show is as fitting to his laidback and dry charm as the casual suits and jeans worn in the studio and to the sites.

As for the material itself, Seen finds Al Shugairi marvelling at some of the developments he has longed for since Khawatir, with the audience marvelling right alongside their beloved host.

Then again, Al Shugairi says that's the essence of the show, and that asking the right questions is only the start. It is also about having determination to see your goals come true.

“Progress takes time,” he says in the second episode’s conclusion. “It has never been a straight path, and it takes time and patience.”