Man on a mission

Man on a mission

When Prince Sultan bin Salman, President of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTNH), sat amid the ruins of the glorious old city of Al-Diriyah to record a TV program for Al-Arabiya channel, he spoke about the Kingdom’s archaeological restoration, excavations and discoveries, as well as the return of stolen antiquities and restoration of archaeological sites dating back to the pre-Islamic era. He also spoke about the building of regional and national museums and encouragement of domestic tourism.
These all represents the accomplishments of the past five years, as well as the visions, dreams and hard work of Prince Sultan and his unparalleled love and passion for the history and culture of his country.
Prince Sultan is a very modest man who loves people, helps Saudi families become productive citizens, and works hard to ensure these products and industries live on.
He lives in a house of mud, which he repaired and preserved close to Al-Diriyah’s antiquities, and you can find him carrying out surprise tours and visits to many of the archaeological sites in order to follow up on the progress of work, especially in Al-Diriyah before Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman launched part of the archaeological and heritage sites there.
There is no doubt that there are clear and comprehensive plans to transform Al-Diriyah into a lively area for people to live. This area will have a theater, market places and educational centers.
This article may not be enough to talk about Saudi Arabia. What has happened during the past few years? Four archaeological sites were added to the World Heritage List, which is considered an important achievement for the Kingdom, while efforts are under way to include another 10. There are large-scale projects for the development of Saudi Arabia’s national heritage and projects to promote domestic tourism and to rehabilitate archaeological sites, as in Al-Ula province and in many other areas such as Taif.
Around 222 cultural and tourist festivals have been organized so far, such as Souk Okaz, Riyadh Summer Festival and Madinah Summer Festival. Prince Sultan personally told me about the overall strategy for the development of heritage sites, rehabilitation of historic buildings and ancient palaces, as well as the preparation under way for several major projects, including the King Abdul Aziz Museum of Islamic Heritage.
Furthermore, there is a tremendous national program and effort — supervised personally by Prince Sultan bin Salman and implemented by his assistant Dr. Ali Al-Ghabban — for the restoration of Saudi stolen antiquities. Around 30,000 artifacts have been restored and returned from outside the Kingdom so far, in addition to another 116,000 artifacts within the Kingdom. This is in addition to other efforts and projects overseen by Prince Sultan personally, such as encouraging archaeological missions including German, French, British, Italian and American missions, as well as the project for the development of handicraft industries through development of artisanal skills and capabilities. There is also the Okaz Market Award for Innovation in the Handicraft Industry, which is the “Made in Makkah” project.
It is, however, the “Saudi Archaeological Masterpieces” exhibition that has allowed the Kingdom to advance globally in the field of archaeology and antiquities. The exhibition was held at the Louvre museum in France, the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. as well as in a number of European and American cities. There is also the upcoming “Caravan Route” exhibition, which was announced by Prince Sultan during my lecture in Riyadh.
I believe that the UNESCO should award Prince Sultan for his efforts and ability to preserve, restore and allow the Kingdom’s antiques to tour the world, spreading messages of peace and love present in the hearts of all Saudis.

The writer is a former Egyptian Minister of State for Antiquities.
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