Saudi treasures at Louvre Abu Dhabi dazzle visitors

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The exhibition helps to spread cultural knowledge among visitors about the glorious past of the region. (Photos/SPA)
Updated 17 December 2018

Saudi treasures at Louvre Abu Dhabi dazzle visitors

  • The event reflects image of distant past from the heart of a country that preserves the spirit of ancient civilization

JEDDAH: The Roads of Arabia exhibition at the Louvre Museum Abu Dhabi has proved a big attraction for visitors of various nationalities. Subtitled Archaeological Treasures of Saudi Arabia, it carries important information about the history and civilizations of the Kingdom and the Arabian Peninsula.
Visitors expressed their pride that the exhibition confirms the Kingdom’s special place in the field of archaeology, in both the discovery of these treasures and the way they are preserved.
“The exhibition represents the ancient desert memory when trade was the lifeblood of the world. The Arab trade route through the region was one of the world’s most famous routes at the time,” said former Director General of the French National Museums Pierre-Francois Zemmour.
A similar exhibition titled Treasures of Saudi Arabia was held in the Paris Louvre in 2010 and achieved great popularity in Europe, according to Zemmour.
“The exhibition hosted by Louvre Abu Dhabi this year displays 466 artifacts from the Arabian peninsula, the land of the Hijaz and the Arabian Kingdom of Kindah in 200BC,” he added.
“This is a cultural and historical event of great importance which is attracting the attention of thousands of people around the world. It shows the authentic lifestyle of these ancient peoples, who were interested in riding, breeding falcons and hunting, as well as in the protection and organization of commercial convoys,” Zemmour said.
“What is distinctive about the exhibition is that the museum reflects the image of the distant past from the heart of a country that still preserves the spirit of ancient civilization and lives on the spirit of authenticity in a contemporary form.”
Simone Garaudy, a researcher at the National Institute of Archaeology and Heritage in Paris, said that Western and Arab archaeological missions have discovered thousands of important sites in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain over the past 10 years. “These discoveries are very important for the history of humanity. It is great to see that the UAE is particularly interested in national museums which represent the memory of the region and preserve the history of the Gulf region and the civilization of the Arabian Desert for the present and future generations,” said Garaudy.
Garaudy said that the Louvre Abu Dhabi displays the great value of the past using the latest techniques of presentation, preservation and storage. “This is very important because it makes it easy for millions of people around the world to follow the exhibitions, which present Arab history to the world,” she added.
Jean de Cornies, an artist and a member of the board of trustees of the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, said that the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum has a collection of thousands of artifacts that reflect Arab lifestyle through the ages, collected from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and Oman.
“The Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi works with its counterparts in other Arab countries and around the world, making the Louvre Abu Dhabi a integrated historical memory that reflects a long history of the Arabs.”
Indian researcher Alimuddin said: “I can see sculptures from the Stone Age and artifacts that are tens of thousands of years old, and this makes us rethink many ideas and wonder how these pieces have been preserved, despite the difficult environmental conditions in the region.”
Kabra, a visitor, stressed the importance of viewing this great heritage, noting that she did not know much about the heritage of the Arabian Peninsula, and that holding such exhibitions helps to spread cultural knowledge among the people.


Remembering the siege of Makkah

Updated 3 min 6 sec ago

Remembering the siege of Makkah

  • Forty years ago, a group of armed fanatics led by Juhayman Al-Otaibi were primed for an assault that would cast a long, regressive shadow over Saudi Arabia

JEDDAH:  In November 1979, the Middle East was already on a knife edge. In Iran, a liberal monarchy that had ruled for almost four decades had just been overthrown by a fundamentalist theocracy preaching a return to medieval religious values that many feared would pollute and destabilize the entire region.

For the citizens of Saudi Arabia, however, the greatest shock was yet to come. The sacrilegious storming of the Grand Mosque in Makkah by armed fanatics that month sent shockwaves through the entire Islamic world.

Murder and mayhem erupted in the very heart of Islam, perpetrated by a reactionary sect determined to overthrow the Saudi government and convinced that one among their number was the Mahdi, the redeemer of Islam whose appearance, according to the hadith, heralds the Day of Judgment. 

Ahead lay two weeks of bitter, bloody fighting as Saudi forces fought to reclaim the Holy Haram for the true faith, but that battle was merely the overture to a war for the very soul of Islam in the Kingdom.

Open, progressive and religiously tolerant, Saudi Arabia was about to travel back in time. Only now, as the Kingdom pushes forward into a new era of transparency and modernization, can the full story of the siege of Makkah and the regressive shadow it would cast over the country for the next 40 years finally be told.

As the citizens of Makkah and those pilgrims who had remained behind after Hajj saw out the final hours of Dhu Al-Hijjah, the 12th and final month of the Islamic calendar, and prepared to greet the year 1400 in prayer within the precincts of the Grand Mosque, a few inconspicuous pickup trucks slipped unchallenged into it through an entrance used by construction workers under the Fatah Gate, on the north side of the mosque.

The trucks and the men who drove them were there at the bidding of Juhayman Al-Otaibi, a disaffected former corporal in the Saudi National Guard.

As a firebrand at the head of a small group of religious students based in a small village outside Madinah, Juhayman had been on the radar of the authorities for some time. According to Prince Turki Al-Faisal, who in 1979 was the head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate, the group consisted of students from various religious seminaries who had put their faith in the eschatological figure of the Mahdi, the supposed redeemer of Islam. 

“Their aim, according to their beliefs, was to liberate the Grand Mosque from the apostate rulers of the Kingdom and to liberate all Muslims by the coming of the so-called Mahdi,” Prince Turki said in an interview with Arab News.

Juhayman and his group were set on a path that would lead to tragedy, reaching out to potential recruits both inside and outside the Kingdom. “Through their correspondence and preaching, they managed to recruit a few individuals,” Prince Turki said. 

Juhayman Al-Otaibi after his capture following the end of the seige. (AFP)

One temporary recruit was the Saudi writer Abdo Khal, who in 2010 won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction for his novel “Throwing Sparks.” In an interview in 2017 with MBC television, he said that when he was 17 he was one of Juhayman’s men and had even helped to spread the group’s ideology by distributing leaflets.

“It’s true, I was going to be part of one of the groups that was going to enter the Haram,” he said and, were it not for the intervention of his elder sister, he might have found himself among those who were to seize the Grand Mosque. 

“I was supposed to move out to (a mosque) where our group was gathering. We were supposed to be in seclusion at the mosque for three days, and we were supposed to leave with Juhayman on the fourth day.”

But his sister stopped him going to the rendezvous point, on the ground that he was too young to be sleeping away from home for three nights. Almost certainly, she saved his life. “And then, on the fourth day, the horrendous incident happened.” 

Writer Mansour Alnogaidan was only 11 years old when the siege happened, but like many Saudis of his generation, he felt the tug of various Salafi groups in his youth.

Now general manager of Harf and Fasela Media, which operates counter-terrorism websites, he has done extensive research on the Makkah siege.

Alnogaidan says there were a number of possible reasons behind the 1979 incident, including an existing idea in the mind of Juhayman and his group that they were the successors of a Bedouin movement by the name of “Ikhwan-men-taa-Allah.”

“Some believed they had a vendetta against the Saudi government,” he said in an interview with Arab News. “Another issue was essentially the personal desires of certain people (such as Juhayman) who sought power and control. He wanted to satisfy something inside him.”

Alnogaidan added: “Also, we must not forget that this incident came after the Khomeini revolution in Iran, which had an influence even though not a direct one.”

Juhayman and his group were on the radar of the security services. Over time, recalled Prince Turki, “there were many attempts by authorized religious scholars in the Kingdom to rectify the group’s beliefs by discussion, argument and persuasion.” 

Occasionally individuals were taken in for questioning by the authorities “because they were considered to be potentially disruptive to society. Once they were taken in, however, they always gave affidavits and signed assurances that they would not continue with the preaching and so on.”

But “once they were released, of course, they returned to their previous ways.”

At some point in the closing months of the 13th Islamic century, Juhayman’s group identified one of their number, Juhayman’s brother-in-law Mohammed Al-Qahtani, as the Mahdi.

In the early hours of Tuesday, Nov. 20, 1979, as the inhabitants of Makkah and the pilgrims who had lingered after Hajj gravitated toward the Grand Mosque for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience the dawning of a new century in Islam’s holiest place, the stage was set for the most unholy of outrages.

Carrying firearms within the Grand Mosque was strictly forbidden; even the guards were armed only with sticks. An armed assault on the precincts of the mosque — on the sacred values it enshrined for the world’s two billion Muslims — was unthinkable.

But on the first day of the Islamic new year of 1400, the unthinkable happened.

 

Juhayman: 40 years on
On the anniversary of the 1979 attack on Makkah's Grand Mosque, Arab News tells the full story of an unthinkable event that shocked the Islamic world and cast a shadow over Saudi society for decades
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