A new era dawns for Saudi Arabia’s ancient cities of Al-Ula

A new era dawns for Saudi Arabia’s ancient cities of Al-Ula
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Aerial view of Al-Ula old town.
A new era dawns for Saudi Arabia’s ancient cities of Al-Ula
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Tombs carved out of sandstone outcrops by the Nabateans centuries ago abound in Madain Saleh.
A new era dawns for Saudi Arabia’s ancient cities of Al-Ula
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Inscriptions on sandstones abound in Madain Saleh.
A new era dawns for Saudi Arabia’s ancient cities of Al-Ula
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Rock art in Madain Saleh
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Updated 19 December 2019

A new era dawns for Saudi Arabia’s ancient cities of Al-Ula

A new era dawns for Saudi Arabia’s ancient cities of Al-Ula
  • 200 young Saudis are in the vanguard of an ambitious project to bring travelers back to Al-Ula
  • Program aims to bring 1.5 to 2 million visitors to Al-Ula a year

PARIS: Five thousand years ago, Al-Ula was as cosmopolitan as they come. For traders and adventurers alike it was an essential stop on the road between the Mediterranean and the Arab world, and far beyond to Asia and Africa.

The rebirth of AlUla
Hegra, ancient city of the Nabataeans in Saudi Arabia’s historic AlUla Valley, is emerging from the mists of time to take its rightful place as one of the wonders of the world

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Now 200 young Saudis are in the vanguard of an ambitious project to bring travelers back to Al-Ula — this time as tourists and lovers of history, eager to explore one of the greatest profusions of cultural treasures to be found anywhere in the world.
Recruited from Al-Ula region, the 200 young people —  all high-school leavers or in their first year as university students, and split 50-50 between boys and girls — are in Riyadh being trained in hospitality, learning new languages, studying farming and water technology and swotting up on the cultural, social and natural history of their home region.
There is a great deal of ground to cover — literally as well as figuratively. Al-Ula province covers 22,000 square kilometers of golden sandstone and oases. The region, which is the size of Belgium, is packed with little-known treasures created by ancient civilizations. 
The Dadanites, the Lihyanites and Nabateans ruled over Al-Ula. There is ample evidence to show the ancient Greeks and Romans passed through, too. More recently, the Ottoman Turks were a force there.
It is believed that the Prophet Mohammed himself visited the Wadi Al-Qura in Al-Ula valley a few times, both as a child and an adult.
No wonder Al-Ula has been dubbed “an open-air museum,” or that a special royal commission was deemed necessary to oversee the task of bringing it to world attention and developing tourism in the region.
Amr Al-Madani is the chief executive of the Royal Commission on Al-Ula. Which is more important to him — preservation of the archeological sites, or developing tourism?
“The two go together,” he says. “We have to preserve the heritage, both cultural and natural, but we don’t want Al-Ula to be an archaeologists’ club. 
“We are in the lucky position of starting with a blank canvas so we can learn from the mistakes others have made in the past. What has lasted 5,000 years should not be ruined in 50. We are looking at sustainable tourism — both in the sense of respecting nature and also because we want our tourism industry to be long-term. 
“We want to give visitors the best experience we can, balanced against the need to preserve the assets we have. We don’t want to be a case study for someone in the future looking at what went wrong.”
Archaeologists have been working on excavations in Al-Ula for 16 years; now there are drones circling overhead so that the region can be properly mapped out for potential sites for hiking trails and tourism infrastructure.
The aim is to welcome the first tourists in three to five years, with an eventual capacity of 1.5 to 2 million a year “while still maintaining a great level of intimacy with the site,” Al-Madani says. 
He points out that Al-Ula was never completely unknown: “Curious tourists have always managed to find their way there; about 20,000 of them each year, mostly expats living in the Kingdom.”
For expert help in redeveloping and restoring Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia has turned to France as one of its partners.  It is hard to pin down who approached who first (“We met in the middle,” according to Al-Madani) but the result is a set of agreements between the culture ministries of both countries as well as academic institutions, management consultants and heritage organisations.
“France is one of the most visited countries in the world. When you look at heritage sites like Nimes or Avignon in the south of France, it is clear the culture of preservation is driven by the lifestyle,” said Al-Madani. “France is also the headquarters of Unesco and other heritage bodies.”
The triumph of the co-operation between the Louvre museum in Paris and the recently opened offshoot in Abu Dhabi was also a factor, he acknowledged.
“After exporting their expertise so successfully, they were keen to repeat the experience.”
Al-Ula already has one Unesco World Heritage site in the ancient city of Madain Saleh, which dates from at least 2,000 BC and was conquered by the Romans in the early 2nd century AD, becoming the most southerly point in the Roman Empire. The city was second only to Petra in Jordan as a place for the elite to bury their dead. 
The existing settlements of Al-Ula, Al-Atheeb and Moghairah can already cater for visitors but are ripe for immediate development. They also offer access to only 2,000 square kilometres, a fraction of Al-Ula’s total area. 
“There are also some nice hideaway resorts. It is possible to stay in Al-Ula in comfort already, but a hotel is much more than just a bed,” said Al-Madani. “We need better gastronomy and we intend to recruit chefs from all over the world. We need nightlife, performance, art, night walks. We don’t want to simply meet standards, we want to elevate them and set them for others to follow.”
A local airport opened four years ago and there are good roads; but improving public transport is another part of the project, along with linking up with plans for holiday resorts on the Red Sea, so visitors can spend time exploring the historic sites and follow up with a few days on the beach. The potential openings for anyone with the required skills, or the motivation to acquire them, seem almost limitless — a fact not lost on the young people of Al-Ula province. More than 2,100 people out of a local population of 70,000 applied for those 200 traineeships.
The chosen candidates will spend three to six months at college in Riyadh while careers advisers and psychologists assess their abilities and where they might be best applied.
“Then they will be sent out into the world, to improve their languages, to learn how to be independent,” said Al Madani. 
Young girls and boys sent out into the world to be independent? It is not the picture most outsiders  have of Saudi Arabia. The change in perception, the big plans, the breath-taking ambition of Vision 2030, all emanate from the country’s youthful crown prince.
“This is a new era for Saudi Arabia and it all comes from him,” said Al-Madani. The Al-Ula project, too? “Eveything.”
A graduate of Harvard Business School, Al-Madani has 15 years’ experience in discovering and nurturing innovation. He is also a former chief executive of the General Entertainment Authority, the body charged with bringing cinema, live performances and sporting events back to the Kingdom.
But he talks about Al-Ula with such zeal that Amr Al-Madani truly gives the impression that he believes he has the best job in town — any town. 
Certainly, re-introducing Al-Ula to the world is a bigger task than introducing the world to Al-Ula.
“Many centuries ago,” Al-Madani says, “Al-Ula was already used to seeing people from all over; Al Ula was global long, long ago.”

* * * * * * *
TOUR GUIDE
Arab News has seen many of the wonders of Al-Ula at first hand — from the air. We took a helicopter flight last year with the Australian archaeologist David Kennedy, who had been using Google Earth for years to explore Saudi Arabia’s vast desert plains.
“Seeing it from 500 feet is so much better,” he told Arab News, as he hung from the helicopter door while wearing a harness suit, with a camera in his hands.
There are 400 stone gates — thought to be used for trapping animals — and graves scattered across the lava fields known as Harrat Khaybar and Harrat Uwayrid.
“I’ve seen lava fields before and plenty of graves, but I’ve never seen ones like these. Absolutely amazing,” Kennedy said.
There are “so many wonderful sites. When we go back after refueling we’ll visit the best place,” he said — Harrat Uwayrid. “The graves in this lava field are overlapping, which is very unusual.”
In 2008, Abdullah Al-Saeed, a Saudi doctor, wrote to Kennedy asking him to check out sites in the Kingdom that he had spotted on Google Earth.
“I was stunned because I hadn’t thought of looking up Saudi Arabia before, as I thought the quality of the imagery for most of the Middle East was poor,” said Kennedy.
He described the images he found as “absolutely astonishing,” similar to sites he had seen in Jordan but with different designs. “So most people with the same idea executing it in a different way,” is how he described it. Kennedy and Al-Saeed co-wrote an article about it for Saudi Aramco World Magazine.
“There’s just so much there. I’ve been used to the lava field in Jordan, which is very rich, but Harrat Khaybar I think is richer. It’s an absolutely wonderful place.”
- Aisha Fareed, Riyadh

 

 

 

 

The rebirth of AlUla
Hegra, ancient city of the Nabataeans in Saudi Arabia’s historic AlUla Valley, is emerging from the mists of time to take its rightful place as one of the wonders of the world

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22,000

22,000 square kilometers - The size of Al-Ula province, equivalent in area to Belgium.


Picture perfect: Saudi Arabia’s ancient beauty finds a new audience

Picture perfect: Saudi Arabia’s ancient beauty finds a new audience
Photographers now use drones to reach places that once were too dangerous or remote, and the resulting images shed new light on the power of photography and the beauty of landscapes. (Photos: Instgram/ @mysloppyadventures)
Updated 3 min 59 sec ago

Picture perfect: Saudi Arabia’s ancient beauty finds a new audience

Picture perfect: Saudi Arabia’s ancient beauty finds a new audience
  • Online platforms have become a melting pot of images taken by photographers who travel the country

JEDDAH: A new generation of Saudi photographers is relying on the power of social media to showcase the Kingdom’s vast beauty.

Online platforms have become a melting pot of images taken by photographers who travel the country — from the sandy beaches of the east and west, to the mountains of the north and south, and the green oases of the deserts — discovering the beauty of each region one picture at a time.

Fahad Al-Mutairi, 22, started @thesaudigate on Twitter to promote Saudi Arabia’s “hidden wonders” to a growing tourist market.

“I wanted to be part of the future somehow — that’s why I started Saudi Gate and this is what has motivated me to go on,” he told Arab News.

Many other photographers who travel the country share the same outlook.

Faisal Fahad Binzarah, 41, said: “I had to work on a few projects and went to places I had never been before. I remember thinking, where has this been all my life? I never thought I would find such gems in Saudi Arabia.”

Binzarah said that he looks for dramatic landscapes and tries to “capture the overall feeling of the place.”

He said: “The pictures I take are not unique, the uniqueness comes from the places. I am just the conveyer of the beauty and nothing else.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Fahad Al-Mutairi, 22, started @thesaudigate on Twitter to promote Saudi Arabia’s ‘hidden wonders’ to a growing tourist market.

• Al-Mutairi said that about a third of @thesaudigate’s followers are international, and they are usually surprised by what they see.

“As a photographer, I try to capture the right objects at the right time, but often I feel like the beauty is not represented,” he said.

Al-Mutairi said that about a third of @thesaudigate’s followers are international, and they are usually surprised by what they see.

“Often they are amazed but also very happy because after going through the pictures they know that there is a part of the world that they must explore.”

Hadi Farah, 28, a Lebanese photographer who now lives in the Kingdom, said that he had traveled widely in Saudi Arabia and “always felt a sense of welcome and ease.”

“I think tourism is directly influenced by photographers. Whenever I upload something, I receive questions with people asking if this is really in Saudi Arabia or have I accidentally put the wrong name.

“Unfortunately, people think that it is just a desert and nothing else. So by posting pictures of these places we are educating them about possibilities and attractions they thought never existed,” he said.

Binzarah agreed, saying: “Undiscovered places are of interest for professional photographers, because they are always looking for challenges, and I think this ignites their interests to go to these places and explore.”

he added that “while the desert might be nothing new to a Saudi resident, it will be of interest to people who live in greener countries.”

Saudi Arabia, as a land of ancient civilizations, is extremely appealing for archaeologists and tourists interested in history, Binzara said.

Farah described the beauty of nature in different places, saying: “We associate beauty with life, and in our minds where there is green there is life, but we forget that there is also life in rocks and sand, and they are rich in history. So, we need to keep in mind that the beauty of AlUla is different from other areas.”

Technology is also having a major influence. Photographers now use drones to reach places that once were too dangerous or remote, and the resulting images shed new light on the power of photography and the beauty of landscapes.

“Being on social media gives us the drive to do better,” Binzarah said. “If there is no community or people to engage with, it gets dull.”

He added: “It is a personal journey and one for everyone to discover Saudi Arabia one picture at a time.”

 


United States strongly condemns Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia

United States strongly condemns Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia
Updated 11 min 7 sec ago

United States strongly condemns Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia

United States strongly condemns Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia
  • US says these attacks threaten civilians and Yemen peace prospects
  • Washington remains committed to its longstanding partnership with Saudi Arabia

LONDON: The United States strongly condemned the attacks by Yemen’s Houthi militia on population centers in Saudi Arabia, the State Department said on Sunday.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia launched four drones targeting civilian areas in the Kingdom on Saturday, that were intercepted by Arab coalition forces.
“These attacks threaten not only innocent civilians but also prospects for peace and stability in Yemen,” the State Department said in a statement.
The US also called on the Houthi militia to “end these egregious attacks and engage constructively with UN Special Envoy. Martin Griffiths and US Special Envoy Tim Lenderking with the goal of bringing peace, prosperity, and security to the Yemeni people.”
Newly appointed veteran diplomat Lenderking is currently in the region holding talks with Yemeni, Saudi and UN officials to help bring a political solution to the Yemen war.
“The United States remains committed to its longstanding partnership with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and to helping Saudi Arabia defend its territory as it faces attacks from Iranian-aligned groups,” the statement added.
US President Joe Biden reiterated to King Salman during a phone call on Thursday that Washington was committed to defending the Kingdom against any threats.


Family affair: Saudi siblings inherit father’s law legacy

Family affair: Saudi siblings inherit father’s law legacy
Having seen their father work while growing up, the three eldest children, Osama, Jawaher and Haya, are all now practicing lawyers. (Supplied)
Updated 2 min 3 sec ago

Family affair: Saudi siblings inherit father’s law legacy

Family affair: Saudi siblings inherit father’s law legacy
  • Veteran lawyer Musaad Al-Saleh feels ‘sense of pride’ over children’s path

MAKKAH: Law firms in Saudi Arabia are very much a dime a dozen, but one law firm in Tabuk is showing their power through family unity.

Following one career path, three young lawyers are following their father’s footsteps in the legal profession.

Musaad Al-Saleh, 50, told Arab News that his children chose the profession without any pressure because they saw a career that meets their abilities, adding that they will be “a family that will be difficult to approach.”

Having seen their father work while growing up, the three eldest children, 29-year-old Osama, 25-year-old Jawaher and 23-year-old Haya, are all now practicing lawyers.

“It’s common to find families that inherit the medical, business, trade, carpentry and other professions. Women did not enter the legal profession until recently, and the first license for a woman to practice law was offered about five years ago,” said Al-Saleh.

“My children have followed my line of work. Some of them have specialized in commercial law and the others in criminal law, allowing for diversity in dealing with legal issues in the law firm.”

He said that many families follow older generations into a profession, and that now, through women’s empowerment in the Kingdom, women in the family have been able to play the societal roles assigned to them, adding that he worked in the legal field for more than 25 years until retirement.

HIGHLIGHT

Musaad Al-Saleh, 50, told Arab News that his children chose the profession without any pressure because they saw a career that meets their abilities, adding that they will be ‘a family that will be difficult to approach.’

Al-Saleh said that his two daughters graduated from the University of Tabuk’s law department, while his son graduated from Al-Jouf University. Years ago, Al-Saleh had graduated from Al-Madinah University. He stressed that he did not force any of his children to enter the field of law. Rather, it was a choice for each of them. “I only introduced them to the new opportunities awaiting Saudi female lawyers in the sector.”

Family or not, Al-Saleh said that it is business as usual, and that every member of their legal team takes their duties seriously by upholding a professional manner inside the workplace, discussing and analyzing cases, and expressing professional opinions regarding each case they receive.

Complacency, laxity or delay is unacceptable, Al-Saleh added, noting that family bonds should not interfere in the work process to ensure a healthy system.

He said that a common sentiment in the legal community is that a law firm will die with its owner. “But I wanted to change the accepted model, and I tried my best to have my children lead this law firm after me, and maintain its momentum and ensure longevity.

“Being from one family will give them the chance to learn from each other and deal with the issues more professionally.”

As a veteran lawyer, Al-Saleh said he is mostly interested in personal interviews when young men and women apply for work or training at his law firm, adding that a personal touch is important to the formation of a lawyer’s approach.

He said that female lawyers must be attentive, able to present a clear case and communicate information without ambiguity. They will face judges and members of the trial committee and disciplinary bodies — some of whom will be tough. “She must be strong, firm, voice loud and clear and make her case without hesitation.”

Al-Saleh said that he retired after 22 years of service following several positions in the Public Prosecution, and after his young children began to show interest in the legal profession.

First-generation lawyers carry a lot of weight on their shoulders, he said, adding that he “feels a sense of pride” as his children follow his path and pave their own way into the world of law.

 


GCC Standardization Organization celebrates consumer protection day

GCC Standardization Organization celebrates consumer protection day
The GSO attached great importance to consumer protection in the GCC countries. (Photo/Twitter)
Updated 28 February 2021

GCC Standardization Organization celebrates consumer protection day

GCC Standardization Organization celebrates consumer protection day
  • The celebration aims to highlight the importance of consumer safety, strengthen the role of authorities in raising awareness, promote a culture of standardization among consumers, and develop legislation

RIYADH: The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Standardization Organization (GSO) is joining national consumer protection bodies and authorities to celebrate “Gulf Consumer Protection Day.”

Celebrated on March 1 every year, GSO Secretary-General Saud bin Nasser Al-Khusaibi stressed the vital role that standardization bodies and their activities play in ensuring consumer safety, which improves the quality of living and welfare of society.

A total of 23,500 GCC standards and technical regulations cover commodities and products.

The celebration aims to highlight the importance of consumer safety, strengthen the role of authorities in raising awareness, promote a culture of standardization among consumers, and develop legislation, regulations and technical procedures that protect people from fraud and commercial misinformation. This ensures that consumers have access to quality products and full information to make the right decisions about the goods and services available on the market.

The GSO, Al-Khusaibi said, contributes to educating consumers about the damage that results from using materials and products that do not conform to standard specifications.

Al-Khusaibi said that the GSO attached great importance to consumer protection in the GCC countries. This was reflected in the preparation and development of GCC standard specifications and technical regulations for commodities, products and systems, and relevant legislation in cooperation with the national standardization bodies in the member states.

The goal is to serve the needs of the trade and industry sectors in GCC countries, in addition to serving consumers by ensuring quality and safety requirements.

Celebrating Gulf Consumer Protection Day is at the recommendation of the Consumer Protection Committee of the GCC General Secretariat. The occasion was approved by the GCC Trade Cooperation Committee in its 32nd meeting in 2005 and celebrated for the first time on March 1, 2006, under the slogan “Consumer protection is everyone’s responsibility.”

 


Who’s Who: Nabil Khojah, secretary-general of the Economic Cities and Special Zones Authority

Who’s Who: Nabil Khojah, secretary-general of the Economic Cities and Special Zones Authority
Updated 28 February 2021

Who’s Who: Nabil Khojah, secretary-general of the Economic Cities and Special Zones Authority

Who’s Who: Nabil Khojah, secretary-general of the Economic Cities and Special Zones Authority

A royal order has recently approved Nabil Khojah as the secretary-general of the Economic Cities and Special Zones Authority.

Khojah received a bachelor’s degree in management information systems from the College of Industrial Management of King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in 1996.

Nearly three years ago, he attended a leadership program designed for senior executives, Harvard Business School (HBS).

Khojah, who has served as CEO of Mosanada Logistics Services since 2019, brings extensive experience in the logistics industry to his role.

For four years beginning in 2008, he worked as the managing director at Exel, a joint venture business between DHL and Al-Olayan Group, a multinational enterprise with an actively managed portfolio of global investments.

Between 2012 and 2018, he served as the chief executive officer of Saudia Cargo, one of the Middle East’s leading air cargo carrier and cargo ground handling companies. His responsibilities included reporting to the company’s board of directors and overseeing a business with an extensive global network.

He has also held leadership positions with Unilever KSA and the Royal Saudi Air Force, among others.

From 2001 to 2003, he worked for Unilever, where he occupied a series of more senior positions, including manager of business systems, manager of the supply chain and logistics department, and manager of market demand planning. For three years beginning in 2003, he served as the regional manager for logistics and imported products in Dubai.

Khojah then moved to DHL as the general manager for transport and logistics, later becoming general manager of the company at its headquarters in Saudi Arabia.