Stronger Saudi-Lebanese ties bode well for tourism

Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meets with Saudi Arabia's Arab Gulf Affairs Minister Thamer Al-Sabhan. (Dalati Nohra/Handout via Reuters)
Updated 10 February 2017
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Stronger Saudi-Lebanese ties bode well for tourism

BEIRUT: Saudi tourism to Lebanon is tipped to increase after a boost in diplomatic ties between the two nations. In a visit to Lebanon by Thamer Al-Sabhan, Saudi minister for Arabian Gulf Affairs, the diplomat told President Michel Aoun that Saudi Arabian Airlines would increase its flights to Beirut. Lebanese-Saudi relations have been troubled in recent years as a result of the Syrian crisis.
The Gulf countries earlier barred their citizens from traveling to Lebanon, while Saudi Arabia last year suspended $3 billion in military aid involving French arms to Lebanon.
But President Aoun’s visit to Riyadh at the beginning of the year paved the way for restoring warm ties between the two nations, and Al-Sabhan’s visit to Beirut was perceived as “a complementary effort comfortably received by the Lebanese,” said Future Bloc MP Ammar Houri.
“The Kingdom has always been keen to offer Lebanon help and support in all fields and arenas,” Houri said.
“The Lebanese state’s proven ability to control security and fight terrorism combined with a warm welcome to our Saudi brothers constitutes favorable conditions for the Saudi comeback to Lebanon,” he said.
The head of the Lebanese Hotel Owners’ Association, Pierre Ashkar, has a similar view. He perceives Al-Sabhan’s visit as another positive step complementing President Aoun’s trip to the Kingdom.
“The Gulf people, especially the Saudis, represent the backbone of tourism in Lebanon. Our country’s history is a witness to the importance of these relations which date from the second half of the last century to the present,” Ashkar said.
He thinks that further coordination between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia will be a critical factor in improving relations between them.
However, Ashkar doesn’t expect an immediate increase in the number of Saudi tourists.
“Saudi tourists have not been coming to Lebanon for the last three or four years and they were previously in full swing for 365 days a year,” Ashkar said. “Now we have to wait a while before things get back to normal.”
“Some VIP Saudi tourists, though in small numbers, have visited Lebanon after being absent for a long time. They found that Lebanon was as welcoming as ever and the streets were not filled with garbage as the media had suggested.”
Economic expert Dr. Marwan Iskandar stressed that the visit by a Saudi minister indicated that the Kingdom was returning to comfortable relations with Lebanon.
“Saudi trips to Lebanon are very significant, as there are many Saudis who have properties in Lebanon and the country is, after all, a desirable destination. And Lebanon suffered a great deal from the boycott by Arab nations, specially the Gulf ones, as a result of the Syrian crisis,” he said.


How Saudi Arabia turned back to the future

Updated 6 min 26 sec ago

How Saudi Arabia turned back to the future

  • When Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pledged to bring back moderate Islam, he referenced a time before the developments of 1979 halted the Kingdom’s progress

Saudi Arabia was on a roll in the 1970s, enjoying the social and cultural developments that had begun in the previous two decades, and buoyed by the rising price of oil and the Kingdom’s first Development Plan.

But 1979 changed everything. Saudi Arabia took a conservative turn, prompted by two events: the Iranian Revolution in February, which brought Ayatollah Khomeini to power, and the siege by religious extremists of the Grand Mosque in Makkah.  As Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told 2017’s Future Investment Initiative: “We were not like this in the past. We only want to go back to what we were, the moderate Islam that is open to the world, open to all the religions … And quite frankly, we will not waste 30 years of our lives in dealing with extremist ideas … We want to live a normal life, a life that translates our moderate religion, our good customs.”

And that’s what has happened. Under Vision 2030 and a flurry of life-altering developments – movies and concerts, greater freedom for women, fitness in schools, to name just a few – the Kingdom is on a trajectory back to the future.

 

THEN: 

1955 - Saudi Arabia’s first private school for girls, Dar Al-Hanan, is founded in Jeddah by Princess Effat, with the support of her husband, Crown Prince Faisal bin Abdul Aziz, amid a social outcry. 

1960 - Royal decree approves public education for girls; schools are established in Riyadh, Makkah and other cities.

1962 - The non-profit women’s organization, Al-Nahda, is established by Princess Effat and a number of prominent Saudi women.

1963 

  • The Council of Ministers approves a project to establish television in the Kingdom.
  • The Department of Youth Welfare (previously the Department of Sport) creates four federations: volleyball, basketball, athletic and cycling.

1965 - King Faisal approves the first national television broadcast, a reading of the Qur’an, amid protests from conservatives.

1960 - A royal decree approves public education for girls; schools are established in Riyadh, Makkah and other cities.

1962 - The non-profit women’s organization, Al-Nahda, is established by Princess Effat and a number of prominent Saudi women.

1963

  • The Council of Ministers approves a project to establish television in the Kingdom.
  • The Department of Youth Welfare (previously the Department of Sport) creates four federations: volleyball, basketball, athletic and cycling.

1965

  • King Faisal approves the first national television broadcast, a reading of the Qur’an, amid protests from conservatives.
    King Faisal (right) and US President Richard Nixon.
  • The first TV broadcast in Saudi Arabia is launched from the US Consulate in Dhahran; “The Eye of the Desert” is broadcast in English and only to the Dhahran area. 

1957

  • The Kingdom’s first institute of higher education, King Saud University, is opened in Riyadh.
  • The launch of Aramco TV, with a wider broadcasting range that reaches Al-Hofuf and other areas across the Gulf. Broadcasts are in both Arabic and English.

1979

 

IRANIAN REVOLUTION

January 22 - Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and his wife leave Tehran.

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini

February 1 - Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returns to Iran from exile in France.

February 11 - Khomeini officially assumes power when troops loyal to the shah surrender.

February 16 - Iran’s revolutionary authorities start executions of leading supporters of the shah, including four top generals.

November 4 - US embassy in Tehran stormed by Iranian students who take 52 Americans hostage, demanding the extradition of the shah.

 


SIEGE OF MAKKAH’S GRAND MOSQUE

November 20 - A well-organized group led by Saudi militant Juhayman Al-Otaibi storms the Grand Mosque with weapons smuggled in coffins and vehicles using members pretending to be there to pray. Al-Otaibi is a member of Al-Jamaa Al-Salafiya Al-

Militants arrested after the Makkah Siege of 1979 are escorted to prison. (File photo) 

Muhtasiba (Salafi Group that Commands Right and Forbids Wrong), which is angered by Western social influence, women’s presence in the Saudi workforce, TV and other issues. Worshippers are prevented from leaving after the announcement of a takeover over a microphone. Hostages are forced to pledge allegiance to the group’s leader, Mohammed bin Abduallah Al-Qahtani, Al-Otaibi and their followers.

December 4 - The siege lasts for two weeks and ends after an intervention by Saudi special forces and their allies, leaving hundreds dead, including Saudi officers, soldiers and civilians as well as Al-Qahtani and his followers. Al-Otaibi is arrested and executed on Jan. 9, 1980.


 

NOW

2016

  • Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveils Vision 2030, a road map for Saudi Arabia’s future.
  • The Saudi Cabinet approves a new law restricting the religious police from questioning, pursuing or arresting violators; they must instead report them to the police or anti-narcotics officers.
  • Princess Reema bint Bandar is appointed vice president for women’s affairs at the General Sports Authwority.
  • Kariman Abuljadayel is the first Saudi woman to compete in the 100-meter event at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil.
  • The General Authority for Entertainment and the General Sports Authority are established by royal decree.

 

2017

  • King Salman appoints Mohammed bin Salman as crown prince ofSaudi Arabia.
  • The Saudi Stock Exchange appoints a woman, Sarah Al-Suhaimi, as chairperson for the first time.
  • In one of the first public music performances in many years, Mohammed Abdo performs for a men-only audience in Jeddah.
  • Giga-projects are launched: NEOM, a $500-billion megacity in theTabuk region, and the RedSea tourism project (right).
  • Saudi state schools announce that they will offer physical education classes for female students.
  • At the inaugural Future Investment Initiative in Riyadh, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pledges a return to moderate Islam.

 

2018

  • Female fans are allowed to attend football matches for the first time in Saudi Arabia; the match was Al-Ahli vs. Al-Batin in Jeddah on Jan. 12. 
  • Ending a 35-year ban on cinemas, the first commercial movie theater opens in Riyadh with a screening of “Black Panther” on April 18.
  • A ban on Saudi women driving is lifted on June 24.
  • An anti-harassment law, approved by the Shoura Council, receives praise from around the world.
  • King Salman launches plans for Qiddiya, expected to be the world’s largest entertainment city.
  • The Culture Ministry, headed by Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Mohammed bin Farhan Al-Saud, is established (right).
  • Al-Ahsa Oasis is designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
  • Weam Al-Dakheel becomes the first Saudi woman to anchor the main evening news on Saudi TV.
  • Enrique Iglesias, Amr Diab and the Black Eyed Peas are among the first international performers at the Formula E in Riyadh, for which the first trial tourist visas are granted.
  • The WWE’s Royal Rumble takes place at Jeddah’s King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah, beginning a 10-year partnership with the General Sports Authority.

 

2019

  • Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman launches a mega tourism project in AlUla which will include a resort designed by renowned French architect Jean Nouvel and a nature reserve dubbed Sharaan.
    King Salman and Crown Prince Mohamme bin Salman.

     

  • Lubna Al-Olayan becomes the first Saudi chairwoman to run a Saudi bank, a merger between Alawwal and Saudi British Bank.
  • Saudi Arabia’s first female ambassador, Princess Reema bint Bandar (top center), is appointed to Washington.
  • The Saudi Cabinet approves a “Privileged Iqama residency permit,” which will allow foreign nationals to work and live in Saudi Arabia without a sponsor, offered to highly skilled expatriates and owners of capital funds.
  • By royal decree, Saudi women no longer require permission from a male guardian to travel or obtain a passport.
  • A lineup of superstars perform in concerts across the Kingdom: Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson and 50 Cent in Jeddah; Andrea Bocelli in AlUla (below); Pitbull and Akon in the Eastern Province.
  • High-profile sports events include the Italian Super Cup between Juventus and AC Milan; Fight Night between world boxing champion Amir Khan (left)and Billy Dib; and the largest Battle Royale in WWE history.