The inside story of Saudi Arabia’s Founding Day, celebrating the year it all began

Special The inside story of Saudi Arabia’s Founding Day, celebrating the year it all began
A 1946 photograph of Shada Palace in Abha, built in 1820.
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Updated 23 February 2022

The inside story of Saudi Arabia’s Founding Day, celebrating the year it all began

The inside story of Saudi Arabia’s Founding Day, celebrating the year it all began
  • The Kingdom’s new Founding Day celebrates the true birthday of the First Saudi State in 1727

RIYADH: For generations, historians and writers have unwittingly perpetuated the myth that the First Saudi State, forerunner of the modern-day Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, was founded in the year 1744.

In fact, as a new reappraisal of the origins of the Kingdom reveals, they were 17 years out.

There is no doubt that the events of 1744, the year in which Imam Mohammed ibn Saud of Diriyah offered sanctuary to the religious reformer Sheikh Mohammed ibn Abdulwahhab, were hugely significant. 




In this ‘Carte de Dreiye,’ the oldest-known map of Diriyah, drawn by a French diplomat in 1808, the historic UNESCO-listed district of At-Turaif on the Wadi Hanifah is recorded as ‘El Tereif.’

But over time the importance of that admittedly historic moment of common cause between state and faith came to obscure the far more complex and deeper-rooted origins of the First Saudi State.

It is to correct this neglect of the Kingdom’s crucial embryonic years that Founding Day has been created, to celebrate 1727 as the true moment of birth and to give Saudis a deeper appreciation of a past far richer than many realize. 




The original Makkah Gate in Jeddah.

It was in 1727 that Imam Mohammed ibn Saud came to the throne, carrying with him the dream of transforming the city state founded by his forebears three centuries earlier into the capital of a nation which, at its height, would bring peace and stability to most of the Arabian Peninsula.

This resetting of the clock from 1744 to 1727 is the outcome of extensive historical research that has been carried out studying the historical resources held by the new Saudi Historical School. 




Ibn Saud’s warriors on the move in the early 20th century as the future founder of Saudi Arabia fought to bring the Najd and the Hejaz together.

“Many historians have linked the rise of the state to the arrival of Sheikh Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahab, and have neglected the initial period of Imam Mohammed ibn Saud’s rule and the preceding era, even though this was the foundational period of the state,” said Dr. Badran Al Honaihen, associate director of historical research and studies at Diriyah Gate Development Authority.

“The revision and reinterpretation of historical events is an intellectual phenomenon found in every part of the world. Previous writings can be considered judgments and opinions that do not prevent revisions or the reaching of new conclusions.” 




It was in 1727 that Imam Mohammed ibn Saud came to the throne, carrying with him the dream of transforming the city state founded by his forebears three centuries earlier into the capital of a nation which, at its height, would bring peace and stability to most of the Arabian Peninsula. (Supplied)

Today, no one can pinpoint exactly when the long journey toward statehood began. The first certain waypoint on the path is the year 430 when the Banu Hanifah tribe migrated to Al-Yamamah in the lower Najd from their home in the Hejaz on the Red Sea coast.

Here, at the junction of several important caravan routes, the tribe to which the ruling house of Al-Saud belongs settled and thrived, founding Hajr — modern-day Riyadh — trading, and growing crops in the fertile valley that in time would take their name — Wadi Hanifah.

With the coming of Islam the Banu Hanifah stepped on to the stage of world history for the first time. 




It was in 1727 that Imam Mohammed ibn Saud came to the throne, carrying with him the dream of transforming the city state founded by his forebears three centuries earlier into the capital of a nation which, at its height, would bring peace and stability to most of the Arabian Peninsula. (Supplied)

In 628, six years after the hijra, the flight of Mohammed and his persecuted followers from Makkah to Madinah, the Prophet sent letters to various Arabian rulers, inviting them to embrace “Islam,” submission to the will of God.

The ruler of the Banu Hanifah at this time was Thumamah ibn Uthal, whose spiritual journey from initial rejection to heartfelt acceptance of Islam is celebrated in the Hadiths.

IMAM MOHAMMED IBN SAUD’S MOST SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENTS

• Unified Diriyah under his rule and contributed to its stability.

• Managed internal affairs and strengthened Diriyah’s community.

• Ensured regional stability.

• Built the Diriyah wall to counter external attacks.

• Began unification campaigns.

• Political independence from any external influence.

• Organized the country’s resources.

• Unified the majority of Najd.

• Secured Hajj and trade routes.

In Hadith number 189, he is recorded as telling Mohammed: “There was no face on the face of the Earth that was more hateful to me than your face, but now your face has become the most beloved of all faces to me.”

In historical terms, Al-Yamamah would lay dormant for much of the next 800 years. This was a dark age of neglect and widespread emigration to escape the economic hardship endured under the oppressive Ukhaidhir dynasty, which rose to temporary prominence in the Najd in the ninth century. 

Destiny, however, is a patient force, and by the 15th century the stage was finally set for the return to influence of the Banu Hanifah. 

Generations earlier, part of the tribe had migrated eastwards to settle on the shores of the Arabian Gulf. But in 1446, Manaa’ Al-Muraide, leader of the Marada clan of the Al-Duru tribe of the Banu Hanifah, led his people back to the heart of Arabia, at the invitation of his cousin, Ibn Dira’, the ruler of Hajr.

The settlement they had founded on the coast they had named Diriyah after their tribal name, Al-Duru. Now they established a new Diriyah on the fertile banks of the Wadi Hanifah.

In the words of historian Dr. Badran Al-Honaihen, Al-Muraide’s arrival “laid the building blocks for the establishment of the greatest state in the history of the Arabian Peninsula, after the Prophetic State and the Rashidun Caliphate.” 




It was in 1727 that Imam Mohammed ibn Saud came to the throne, carrying with him the dream of transforming the city state founded by his forebears three centuries earlier into the capital of a nation which, at its height, would bring peace and stability to most of the Arabian Peninsula. (Supplied)

Another 300 years would pass before the next momentous steps were taken. In 1720, Saud ibn Mohammed assumed the leadership of Diriyah, who the Saudi Royal Family named after him.

Today, historians date the origin of the First Saudi State to 1727, when Saud’s son, Mohammed, became the ruler of the city state.

He had, said Al-Honaihen, “assumed power in exceptional circumstances.” Diriyah had been rent by internal divisions, and a plague that had spread throughout the Arabian Peninsula had claimed many lives in the Najd. Nevertheless, “Imam Mohammed was able to unite Diriyah under his rule, and to contribute to the spread of security and peace at the regional level and on the level of the Arabian Peninsula.

“The project of the first Saudi state began in 1727, and then his sons took it on after him. What we need to remember from this story is unity, security and peace after centuries of lack of unity.” 




It was in 1727 that Imam Mohammed ibn Saud came to the throne, carrying with him the dream of transforming the city state founded by his forebears three centuries earlier into the capital of a nation which, at its height, would bring peace and stability to most of the Arabian Peninsula. (Supplied)

At last, here was a leader with a vision that extended beyond his immediate horizon, and who was determined to found a new state, based on education, culture and security and allegiance to the true faith of Islam.

It was to this dynamic and politically and economically increasingly powerful new state that the religious reformer Sheikh Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahab was drawn.

The sheikh, a religious scholar from the nearby village of Al-Uyayna, had become increasingly concerned that many in the Arab world were forsaking the teachings of the Prophet and returning to heretical pre-Islamic ways. His attempts to introduce reforms were met with hostility in Al-Uyayna, but he would find sanctuary in Diriyah.

“The migration to Diriyah of Sheikh Mohammed ibn Abdul Wahab came as a natural result of Imam Mohammed ibn  Saud’s policies,” said Al-Honaihen. “The Imam was known to be religious, and his two brothers, Thunayan and Mishari, and his son Abdulaziz were among those in contact with Sheikh Mohammed ibn Abdulwahhab in Al-Uyayna. 

“Sheikh Mohammed did not leave al-Uyayna until after Imam Mohammed invited him to come to Diriyah, and there was a state capable of protecting the Sheikh’s religious mission.”

For his part, “in supporting this reformist mission, Imam Mohammed saw that it was in agreement with the principles of the state he was working to establish, especially its religious aspect.”

In short, it was not the alliance of Sheikh and Imam that made possible the foundation of the First Saudi State, but rather it was the existence of that state, already politically and economically strong, that made possible the spread of the message of reform. 




It was in 1727 that Imam Mohammed ibn Saud came to the throne, carrying with him the dream of transforming the city state founded by his forebears three centuries earlier into the capital of a nation which, at its height, would bring peace and stability to most of the Arabian Peninsula. (Supplied)

Al-Honaihen stressed that the decision to officially recognize 1727 as the year of founding should in no way be interpreted as undermining religion as the cornerstone of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“That’s not correct,” he said. “The objective is merely to put a precise political date to the founding of the state, namely Imam Mohammed ibn Saud’s accession to power in Diriyah, since a number of erroneous policies and opinions had arisen concerning the rise and establishment of the state.

“Moreover, the state in its constitution stipulates that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an Arab Islamic state whose religion is Islam and whose constitution is the Book of God and the Sunna of His Prophet.” 




It was in 1727 that Imam Mohammed ibn Saud came to the throne, carrying with him the dream of transforming the city state founded by his forebears three centuries earlier into the capital of a nation which, at its height, would bring peace and stability to most of the Arabian Peninsula. (Supplied)

He is also clear that Founding Day is not an alternative to National Day, celebrated on Sept. 23, but complementary to it.

“Founding Day is not intended to replace Saudi National Day, which celebrates the unification of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, but rather to recognize the beginning of the Saudi state’s history with a new event that celebrates the deep historical roots of the Kingdom.”

Although there is no doubt about the year, 1727, the precise date of the start of Imam Mohammed’s reign is lost to history, according to Al-Honaihen.

Feb. 22 was selected as Founding Day simply because a number of important events are known to have taken place in the first months of Imam Mohammed’s reign, at the start of 1727.


Finding answers in the field of humanities tops Riyadh Philosophy Conference’s agenda 

Finding answers in the field of humanities tops Riyadh Philosophy Conference’s agenda 
Updated 6 sec ago

Finding answers in the field of humanities tops Riyadh Philosophy Conference’s agenda 

Finding answers in the field of humanities tops Riyadh Philosophy Conference’s agenda 

RIYADH: The Riyadh International Philosophy Conference brought together philosophers, scholars, historians, politicians, and artists from around the world to help drive research in the field of humanities, the CEO of the Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission told Arab News.

Mohammed Hasan Alwan said that the three-day event, which began on Thursday, delivered multifaceted content for all age groups.

He said: “Philosophy has a wide range of freedom to criticize the past and investigate the future, in the short and long term.

“As a result, we may state that the things that are contradictory to realities and possibilities of time are at the center of philosophy’s activity.”

Alwan said the conference was an attempt to figure out new research areas and find new answers in the interests of humanity.

He added: “The conference comes at a time when such cultural activities are needed to fill a vacuum that has always been unoccupied. It is also needed to reinvigorate dialogue.” 

The conference has looked at pressing contemporary philosophical issues, and the subject’s role in understanding today’s world.

The event has featured 17 interactive sessions, 12 keynote and public lectures, and 13 workshops, including 11 for children aged 7 to 15.

Participants from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, The National University of the Northeast in Argentina, the Independent National University of Mexico, and the International Federation of Philosophical Societies attended.


Kingdom arrests 14,133 illegals in one week

Kingdom arrests 14,133 illegals in one week
Updated 26 min 10 sec ago

Kingdom arrests 14,133 illegals in one week

Kingdom arrests 14,133 illegals in one week

RIYADH: Saudi authorities arrested 14,133 people in one week for breaching residency, work and border security regulations, according to an official report.

From Nov. 24 to 30, a total of 8,148 people were arrested for violations of residency rules, while 3,859 were held over illegal border crossing attempts, and a further 2,126 for labor-related issues.

The report showed that among the 377 people arrested for trying to enter the Kingdom illegally, 51 percent were Yemeni, 37 percent Ethiopian, and 12 percent were of other nationalities.

A further 40 people were caught trying to cross into neighboring countries, and nine were held for involvement in transporting and harboring violators.

The Saudi Ministry of Interior said that anyone found to be aiding illegal entry to the Kingdom, including transporting and providing shelter, could face imprisonment for a maximum of 15 years, a fine of up to SR1 million ($260,000), or confiscation of vehicles and property.

Suspected violations can be reported on the toll-free number 911 in the Makkah and Riyadh regions, and 999 or 996 in other regions of the Kingdom.

From Nov. 17 to 23, the Saudi authorities also arrested 9,131 people for violating residency regulations, 2,416 for labor violations and 4,166 for border violations.


Music enthusiasts sport hoodies at MDLBEAST Soundstorm 2022 in Riyadh

Music enthusiasts sport hoodies at MDLBEAST Soundstorm 2022 in Riyadh
Updated 02 December 2022

Music enthusiasts sport hoodies at MDLBEAST Soundstorm 2022 in Riyadh

Music enthusiasts sport hoodies at MDLBEAST Soundstorm 2022 in Riyadh
  • “I have been here since it all started in 2019, and every year I am surprised by the changes, and this year we noticed a better organization in the parking area,” Nana, who was visiting the music festival with her friends, told Arab News

RIYADH: As the mercury dropped in Riyadh, thousands of music enthusiasts flocked to MDLBEAST Soundstorm 2022 on Thursday in Riyadh sporting hoodies and jackets in a variety of colors and designs.

Nana, a 22-year-old, was spotted in the Dance Tent (one of MDLBEAST’s stages) wearing a colorful 70s style jacket with ripped jeans and glitter around her eyes.

“I have been here since it all started in 2019, and every year I am surprised by the changes, and this year we noticed a better organization in the parking area,” Nana, who was visiting the music festival with her friends, told Arab News.

Many clothing stores at the event focused on selling hoodies and comfortable streetwear.

MDLBEAST also has a customization station where visitors can have pictures or letters printed on their hoodies and T-shirts.

FASTFACTS

• Many clothing stores at the event focused on selling hoodies and comfortable streetwear.

• MDLBEAST also has a customization station where visitors can have pictures or letters printed on their hoodies and T-shirts.

• Another Saudi brand that took part in the festival was Rich/Anonymous.

Reshma Choudhary, manager of the MDLBEAST store, said that people like to buy souvenirs from the festival so that when they return home, they can treasure a piece of MDLBEAST.

“The MDLBEAST brand is growing now, and it’s really good for us to have personalized merchandise, especially for people here who come here to have fun; it’s good to take it as a souvenir now, and I think it’s a good collaboration with the Saudi artists to do something cool,” Choudhary said.

Another Saudi brand that took part in the festival was Rich/Anonymous.

Founder Abdullah Marwan said: “I think it’s important to participate in MDLBEAST as it gives exposure because there are thousands of people here, and it fits our niche in terms of consumers … and the Riyadh style has gone hardcore into hoodies in the last couple of years, so this is why we have special edition hoodies in our brand inspired by MDLBEAST.”

Fahad Al-Qahttani, an Emirati citizen who came all the way from Dubai to attend the festival, wore a leather jacket, sunglasses, bandana and 70s-style colored pants.

“I visit Riyadh often because of all the activities that I find here, and I didn’t miss the MDLBEAST last year … and I love what people are wearing tonight,” Al-Qahttani said.

 


Socrates Cafe founder stresses power of philosophy at Riyadh conference

Socrates Cafe founder Christopher Phillips. (Supplied)
Socrates Cafe founder Christopher Phillips. (Supplied)
Updated 03 December 2022

Socrates Cafe founder stresses power of philosophy at Riyadh conference

Socrates Cafe founder Christopher Phillips. (Supplied)
  • During an interview with Arab News, Phillips discussed the power of philosophical thinking as well as the importance of listening to other people’s thoughts and beliefs

RIYADH: The Riyadh Philosophy Conference on Thursday featured a powerful discussion on the power of philosophy to transform humanity by Socrates Cafe founder Christopher Phillips.

Socrates Cafe is an international gathering concept that encourages individuals to come together and explore timeless and timely questions as well as share their viewpoints on different topics. It can be held in any place, from cafes to meeting areas or any space that invites thinkers to share their thoughts.

“There is a beautiful window here (Saudi Arabia) of flourishing desire, almost a hunger for the discovering, cultivating the art of sort of questioning, to look at what speaks for and against a wide variety of views,” Phillips told Arab News.

“At a time when so many places around the world are building walls, not just literal walls, physical walls — walls between one another, existential walls — there are so many people in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East who truly want to build bridges. They want to be less impatient. And they understand that this form of philosophical inquiry is one way to hear somebody out,” he added.

The Saudi Literature, Publishing & Translation Commission is hosting the second edition of the three-day philosophy conference from Dec. 1-3 at the King Fahd National Library.

There is a beautiful window here of flourishing desire, almost a hunger for the discovering, cultivating the art of questioning, to look at what speaks for and against a wide variety of views.

Christopher Phillips

The second edition of the Riyadh Philosophy Conference has welcomed a wide variety of speakers and experts from around the world to hold lectures, discussions, seminars and workshops focused on philosophy as well as issues affecting humanity.

Speakers include scientists, writers, historians, professors and philosophers from around the world.

Phillips spoke during the first Riyadh Philosophy Conference and has returned for the second edition to host an in-person Socrates Cafe event that give people the opportunity to interact and explore ideas as well as different perspectives in a relaxed setting.

The Philosophers Cafe will explore questions surrounding the conference’s theme of “Knowledge and Exploration: Space, Time and Humanity.”

Phillips said: “It celebrates the right to inquire, the right to frame your own questions, and that’s a tradition of philosophy.

“What’s interesting is that lots of the discussions right now seem to be from a dark place — questions about whether are you born evil or is this something that you can become or is it something that’s innate. On the other hand, they are also asking ‘can I be the change that I want to see in the world?’”

During an interview with Arab News, Phillips discussed the power of philosophical thinking as well as the importance of listening to other people’s thoughts and beliefs.

The Socrates Cafe founder said that he has seen a growing will to ​​proselytize in countries around the world. However, in the Kingdom, Phillips described the trend in thinking as “very much a breath of fresh air right now compared to so many other parts of the world where that tradition of careful listening, of inquiring together, of framing thoughtful questions has gone by the wayside.”

He added: “If you take that time to understand where another human being is coming from and why their story is different from yours, it’s something much more often than not to celebrate.”

Phillips said that many people no longer celebrate the idea of having differing opinions or viewpoints.

He added: “If somebody has a point of view that differs from our own, a person might just be ready to jump down from that other person. So why?”

Rather than pointing fingers and siloing ourselves and viewpoints, Phillips said “we can look at ourselves and say, well, what modest talent might I contribute to be more part of the solution than the problem.

“It’s about cultivating the art of listening at a time when people are screaming at one another, at a time when there’s too much holier than thou to cultivate the Socratic virtues of humility, the sense that ‘I may be wrong.’”

Phillips said he is unsurprised that people in the Kingdom are so willing to hold philosophical discussions and actively listen to opinions that differ from their own.

“I’m not surprised, and I will tell you why, because the Socratic tradition, the tradition originated by Socrates, it’s right on the cusp of the East and the West, the Middle East and the Western world. I think Socrates himself was influenced by Middle Eastern thinkers, and that this is something that comes naturally,” he said.

“There’s the receptivity here in Saudi Arabia that there was when I first started Socrates Cafe in 1996 in the US, and it’s no accident that there’s the spontaneous flourishing of Socrates Cafes and so many diverse types of communities, cities and groups all throughout Saudi Arabia,” Phillips added.

Through holding philosophical discussions and sparking curiosity, people can not only learn from other’s experiences and knowledge, but can also discover a lot within themselves.

“It’s about listening, truly asking why, especially when someone has a view that’s alien to your own, to want to know their story as a way of becoming more connected. It’s transformative when you really give someone that gift of listening to them, you’re going to be changed,” Phillips said.

The Socrates Cafe founder stressed that a lot can be learned from the way children philosophize. “I believe in breaking down categories of learning and knowledge — disciplines of thinking in colors like kids do.”

Phillips has a series of 10 children’s philosophy books. One of them, “Worlds of Difference,” has been translated into Arabic.

“It’s written by the kids. They are not yet cubbyholes; we haven’t yet tainted them so much with our adult-made very unimaginative categories. So they help me. They help me think more fully and deeply, and colorfully,” he said.

“And believe it or not, even though they’re fidgeting around, they really listen to one another until they’ve unlearned it from older folks,” he added.

Phillips is set to travel around the Kingdom, holding Socrates Cafes events throughout the week. He said that there are now 10 Socrates Cafe locations in Saudi Arabia, including in Jubai and Dammam. On Dec. 6 he is set to hold a Socrates Cafe event in Riyadh.

“I feel like this is almost a second home to have been back three times now, and not as a tourist, but as somebody who feels like these are fellow kindred spirits who want to engage in this beautiful thing called Socrates Cafe,” he said.

“It’s such an honor for me to be part of that and to know that there are still places on Spaceship Earth that celebrate the art and science of careful listening, and thinking and inquiry. We all are inquirers, but it tends to get shunted off as we get older.”


Saudi Arabia and Zanzibar have many development priorities in common, President Hussein Ali Mwinyi tells Arab News

Saudi Arabia and Zanzibar have many development priorities in common, President Hussein Ali Mwinyi tells Arab News
Updated 03 December 2022

Saudi Arabia and Zanzibar have many development priorities in common, President Hussein Ali Mwinyi tells Arab News

Saudi Arabia and Zanzibar have many development priorities in common, President Hussein Ali Mwinyi tells Arab News
  • Both nations have commonalities in tourism and economic diversification, says leader of Tanzanian province
  • Mwinyi says sustainability, heritage, renewable energy and agriculture are areas of potential cooperation

MAKKAH: Saudi Arabia and Zanzibar have many priorities in common concerning economic diversification and investment in tourism, renewable energy, and agriculture, according to Hussein Ali Mwinyi, president of the semi-autonomous Tanzanian province, off the coast of East Africa.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News in Makkah on Wednesday, where he performed Umrah during a visit to the Kingdom, Mwinyi said Saudi Arabia and Zanzibar share a number of concerns over sustainable tourism and the promotion of heritage sites.

“In Zanzibar, we have two main types of tourism,” said Mwinyi. “We have beach tourism, because it’s an island with sandy beaches. But we also have old towns, such as Stone Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Those are commonalities where we can learn from each other. 

“But we also have differences. For example, I’m told the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has a good number of tourists coming for sports tourism, like Formula One and such. So those are things that we can learn from the experience here.” 

The tropical archipelago in the Indian Ocean is a veritable crossroads of cultural influence, where Africa meets Arabic history and Indian flavors; the fabled “spice islands” synonymous with abundant production of cloves, nutmeg, pepper and cinnamon. 

 Rama, a kite surfing teacher, surfs in Paje beach, Zanzibar. During high season, Zanzibar’s beaches attract thousands of people for kite surfing, economically benefitting local businesses. (AFP)

Zanzibar united with Tanganyika in 1964 to form the United Republic of Tanzania, but has a culture, heritage and geography distinct from the mainland. It is also pursuing a strategy of economic diversification that takes into account its geographical advantages and multicultural strengths.

Zanzibar’s economy has traditionally been underwritten by tourism. Visitors from colder countries are drawn to its year-round tropical climate, stunning white-sand beaches, and many cultural and heritage sites. 

The tourism industry directly employs around 60,000 people and contributes almost $900 million to Zanzibar’s gross domestic product each year.

However, like many nations and regions reliant on tourist traffic, Zanzibar’s economy has suffered as a result of lockdowns, closures and travel bans during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has underscored the necessity of rebuilding the tourism industry while diversifying the economy across other, more shock-resistant industries.

“The mainstay of the economy of Zanzibar depends very much on tourism,” said Mwinyi, who attended the 22nd World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit in Riyadh this week. “Tourism is contributing to about 30 percent of our GDP.

“We are looking forward to growing the sector following the pandemic and luckily the numbers are coming back. We are almost back to pre-pandemic numbers and we are hoping to have more visitors than we used to have before the pandemic.” 

A tourist dives at Matemwe’s reef. Zanzibar's clear waters and lively reefs attract scuba diving tourists from all over the world. (AFP)

Saudi Arabia’s tourism sector is likewise enjoying a post-pandemic boom. The Kingdom’s investments in leisure and hospitality have created thousands of jobs, setting it on course to emerge as a global destination welcoming 100 million visitors per year by 2030.

Data published by the Saudi Tourism Authority shows that the Kingdom had already received 62 million tourist visitors by late August this year, placing it well on course to meet or even surpass its target by the end of the decade. 

Heritage tourism forms a major part of the Kingdom’s strategy. The Diriyah Gate Development Authority’s At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace developments were officially unveiled on Monday at a gala event during the WTTC Global Summit.

Zanzibar is also promoting its heritage sites. Stone Town, its administrative capital, features distinctive architecture, much of it dating back to the 19th century, reflecting native Swahili culture and a unique mixture of Arab, Persian, Indian and European influences. For this reason, the town was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000.

However, COVID-19 is not the only threat facing the tourism industry. Climate change is causing sea levels to rise, increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, and damaging valuable land and ocean habitats, especially in low-lying island regions. 

During the UN Climate Change Conference — COP27 — held in Egypt’s coastal resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh last month, delegates from climate-vulnerable nations called on the international community to do more to help them mitigate the effects of global warming. 

Dago Roots (R) performs a set with other artists at the International African music festival “Sauti za Busara” at the Old Fort in Stone town. (AFP)

Several governments, including Zanzibar’s, have recognized the urgent need to make their economies more sustainable, resilient and diverse, and to accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources. 

“Luckily, we haven’t been affected so much when it comes to climate change, but we are mitigating the effects by specific policies that were put in place,” said Mwinyi. 

“For example, the tourism we are talking about in Zanzibar is high-value, low-volume tourism. So we want quality tourism, few numbers but high quality, as opposed to mass tourism, which is devastating to the environment. 

“And we also have put down policies to mitigate the effects of climate change, including the use of renewable energy, the recycling of solid waste and such measures. So, in effect, we are hoping to make sure that we are not affected as other island nations have been affected by climate change.”

To avoid potential economic setbacks in the long run, Zanzibar is looking beyond tourism as a primary source of revenue, by embracing agriculture and the “blue” economy, which sustainably utilizes maritime and marine resources.

This includes the establishment of new fisheries, the development of seaports for travel and trade, off-shore renewable energy, seabed aquaculture, and other extractive activities, all under the umbrella of the Zanzibar Development Vision 2050.

Through its Blue Economy Policy, Zanzibar’s government has focused on strengthening the aquaculture sector with investments in seaweed farming, which offers local women economic empowerment and farming communities sustainable livelihoods.

Hussein Ali Mwinyi with Arab News’ Rawan Radwan. (AN photo/Maher Mirza)

“Since Zanzibar is made up of islands, we have to utilize ocean resources for economic development, but in a sustainable way,” said Mwinyi.

“So other than tourism, we are looking into fisheries. It’s an important industry for us — not only fishing but also fish farm aquaculture. We are looking at other sectors like seaweed farming. But we are also developing infrastructure like seaports so that we can have more maritime trade and transportation.”

After meeting with business leaders in Riyadh, Mwinyi is more confident than ever that Tanzania and the province of Zanzibar can enjoy reciprocal trade and cooperation in a wide range of industries.

“Tanzania and Saudi Arabia have had longstanding diplomatic relations. We have embassies on both sides. And now we are trying to strengthen that by encouraging investment from the Saudi side into Tanzania by sending some products from Tanzania to Saudi Arabia,” he said.

“I had a good conversation with the Federation of Saudi Chambers, where members discussed a lot about food security. And as you know, Tanzania is a huge country, we have almost 1 million sq km of fertile land. 

“So, we are an agricultural nation. We can send in a lot of agricultural produce to Saudi Arabia, and we can also send livestock to Saudi Arabia. And it has started actually. We are hoping to increase that. 

A spice tour guide holds a a Ylang-ylang flower on a spice farm outside Stone Town. (AFP)

“On the other hand, Saudi Arabia can send Tanzania products from the hydrocarbon industry, from plastics and fertilizers, including oil and gas itself. So there’s a lot of room for cooperation and strengthening our economy. 

“But on the investment side, I know there’s a lot of Saudi business people who would like to come and invest in tourism in Zanzibar, but also fisheries and livestock keeping. So, we had a good discussion. And I’m sure the cooperation will be further strengthened.”

Mwinyi believes Saudi expertise and interest in Zanzibar as an investment destination will benefit its environmental agenda and bodes well for future cooperation. 

“There was a lot of interest to come and invest in Zanzibar in areas where they have already invested here and which have shown success. One of them is renewable energy. We are an island so we need to have renewable energy. And it has been done here to great success,” he said. 

“Businessmen here are willing to come and share experiences with us and invest in Zanzibar, but that is only one sector. We spoke about a lot more sectors and I think we have huge potential for cooperation in different sectors.”