RIYADH: When Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives in Greece on Tuesday for talks with the Greek leadership, he will be building on already strong bonds of friendship and cooperation between the two countries.
The relationship is not limited to the political arena, but spans economic, commercial, investment, defense, security, cultural and tourism fields among others.
Even so, both sides continuously seek to identify new opportunities for cooperation with the aim of opening diverse fields of economic engagement, facilitating ongoing interactions between Saudi and Greek business sectors, and enabling commercial and investment partnerships within the framework of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan.
In recent decades, investors from both countries have collaborated on a number of joint ventures, and bilateral trade has played a prominent role in the flowering of their commercial relationship.
In 2020, Greek exports to Saudi Arabia were valued at $339.04 million, while its imports from the Kingdom stood at $620.57 million, according to the UN Comtrade database on international trade.
Viewed through the prism of history, the ties that bind the two countries today are a continuation of Greek-Arab relations that date back centuries.
For proof, one need only look at the artifacts preserved in the Riyadh Museum for History and Archaeology, including Greek coins dating back more than 2,000 years.
More broadly, scholarly and architectural influences of ancient Greece can be seen to this day throughout the region, from Europe, the eastern Mediterranean and the Levant to Mesopotamia, Iran and even India.
Through the trade links and conquests of antiquity, Hellenistic ideas blended with those of Arab and later Muslim thinkers, in everything from mathematics and medicine to astronomy and philosophy.
Both Saudi Arabia and Greece are endowed with rich cultural diversity, with efforts underway by both countries to preserve it and share it with the world.
Vision 2030 is based on a new philosophy to revive the Arab and Islamic heritage of the Arabian Peninsula, and to enhance Saudi Arabia’s contribution to culture, arts and global civilization.
Today, the Kingdom’s most important export to Greece is crude oil, while the latter has been a longstanding supplier of cotton seeds, metals, pharmaceuticals, and food items such as margarine, processed goods, nuts and fruit.
Another area that has united both economies is construction. In the 1970s, when the booming city of Riyadh needed the skills of a master planner, authorities called in Constantinos Doxiadis, an architect and urban planner who had worked on several projects in his native Greece.
With Riyadh in the midst of oil-fueled economic and demographic growth, Doxiadis experimented with the idea of a US-style grid system, still in evidence in the city’s Al-Olaya district.
However, the Saudi-Greek relationship extends far beyond brick and mortar. In April 2021, Greece signed an agreement to lend the Kingdom a Patriot air defense battery, which was delivered in September that year, representing a major step forward in defense cooperation.
That same month, assistance provided to Greek authorities by the Saudi drug-enforcement agency led to the discovery of a huge shipment of processed cannabis at Greece’s main port of Piraeus.
According to some estimates, the seized narcotics had a potential street value of €33 million ($33.7 million). This sharing of intelligence marked a new chapter in expanding bilateral cooperation.
The following month, Saudi Culture Minister Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan landed in Athens on a two-day official visit to discuss aspects of cultural cooperation.
In September 2021, the Council of Saudi Chambers signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a Saudi-Greek Business Council to enhance bilateral trade and investment.
In October that year, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met with Kyriakos Mitsotakis, the Greek prime minister, in Riyadh to discuss ways to strengthen bilateral relations.
Following the meeting, the two sides issued a joint statement agreeing to discuss establishing a joint investment fund, and to strengthen cooperation in a number of key sectors.
On defense and security cooperation, the two sides agreed to hold joint military exercises and maneuvers, and to coordinate and exchange expertise. They also agreed to cooperate on localizing technology and the military industries.
This was followed in December by the signing of a cooperation agreement in the field of maritime transport, with a view to developing commercial maritime navigation, increasing traffic of commercial ships and encouraging trade.
In January this year, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, Saudi minister of foreign affairs, met with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias in Athens to discuss safeguarding the law of the sea and freedom of navigation.
They also reaffirmed their commitment to efforts to prevent Iran from gaining access to nuclear weapons.
In March, Saudi Arabia and Greece signed an MoU paving the way for innovations in renewable energy, including green and blue hydrogen, and the development of a fiber-optic cable network that will connect data from Southeast Asia to central Europe.
Between March 12 and 14, a Greek ministerial and business delegation visited Saudi Arabia, making a stop at AlUla, the Kingdom’s most famous UNESCO World Heritage site and the location of a major new tourism development.
The Saudi-Greek Investment Forum, held on March 13, showcased investment opportunities in both countries and resulted in hundreds of bilateral business meetings.
That same month, Saudi Investment Minister Khalid Al-Falih headed a trade delegation to Greece to expand the strategic partnership and enhance investment and trade between the two countries.
“Our visit to Greece comes within the framework of the crown prince’s directives to strengthen and deepen the Saudi-Greek partnership, and to exploit the potentials and opportunities available on both sides in the economic, investment, commercial, cultural, tourism and other fields,” Al-Falih said at the time.
Further investments and strategic partnerships are expected to be announced during the crown prince’s visit to Athens.
A brief history of modern Greece
The Greek War of Independence, which began in 1821, led to the creation of the modern Greek state, which was recognized by the Ottomans in 1829 and by the international community in 1830.
Greece’s territory grew between 1864 and 1947, and in 1981 it became a full member of the European Community, enhancing the stability of the country’s democracy and establishing it as a critical state in the Balkans and eastern Mediterranean.
Barely two centuries after the war of independence, Greece is viewed as a pillar of stability and prosperity for the wider region of southern Europe and the eastern Mediterranean, and an EU member state. In recent years, Greece has instituted key infrastructural upgrades, including the digital state and new labor framework, transforming itself into a very competitive investment destination. Nonetheless, Greece has faced its share of internal and external crises.
For most of its modern history it has been deeply polarized, financially dependent and indebted to foreign creditors, and facing external threats. The debt crisis of 2009 onward brought the nation to the very brink of crashing out of the eurozone.
Greece was in the process of a slow return to growth after years of austerity when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020. This coincided with another turbulent period in Greek-Turkish relations.
The two states have a long and troubled history. Indeed, modern Turkey was established on the back of a victory against Greek forces in the aftermath of the First World War. The participation of both states in NATO since 1952 has not eased relations since they each have outstanding issues concerning the Aegean Sea and Cyprus. The two disagree on the boundaries of their territorial waters and, in turn, disagree on the extent of their exclusive economic zones.
Druze: the great survivors
How the world's most secretive faithhas endured for a thousand years
Arab states express solidarity with Saudi Arabia over suicide bomb blast
Abdullah Al-Shehri detonated a suicide vest when authorities attempted to arrest him in Jeddah, injuring four
Arab world praised the Kingdom's effort to maintain security and safeguard lives
Updated 2 min 59 sec ago
DUBAI: Arab nations have expressed solidarity with Saudi Arabia on Saturday in the wake of the death of a suicide bomber in Jeddah.
Abdullah Al-Shehri detonated a suicide vest when authorities attempted to arrest him in Jeddah, injuring a Pakistani resident and three security men.
In a statement, the UAE condemned the blast, reiterating its stance against “all threats to the Kingdom’s security and stability.”
The country’s ministry of foreign affairs commended the efficiency of the Saudi security forces during the operation and measures taken to maintain public safety, conveying wishes for a speedy recovery of those injured in the blast.
Bahrain was another Gulf country that reaffirmed “unwavering solidarity” with Saudi Arabia and commended relentless efforts to preserve national security. It also praised the vigilance of security forces in dealing with the wanted man.
In a statement published by the state news agency (PETRA), Jordan conveyed support to the Kingdom “in every step taken to protect its security.”
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Haitham Abu Alfoul praised efforts of Saudi security forces in addressing threats to the Kingdom’s stability and safety.
Egypt also voiced support to Saudi Arabia’s fight against “all forms of terrorism” and any violation that threatens national security.
In an official statement, the Egyptian foreign ministry hailed the Kingdom’s proactive measures to track down terrorists and safeguard lives during security operations.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) condemned the bombing and praised the Kingdom’s firm action against any threat that undermines its safety and security.
Meanwhile, Arab Parliament Speaker Adel Al-Asoumi stressed on his confidence in the Kingdom’s vigilance to protect its vital facilities, combat terrorism, and ensure the safety of its citizens and expats.
On Friday, the Saudi security state announced the operation of tracking down and arresting Al-Shehri, who was among nine wanted individuals involved in a 2015 terrorist operation that targeted a mosque in Saudi Arabia. He has been listed as a wanted person by authorities in the Kingdom for the past seven years, according to the statement.
Saudi authorities arrest resident with 50kgs of hashish in Asir’s Rijal Alma’a
The Yemeni resident had hidden the narcotics in the vehicle he was driving when authorities discovered drugs, according to SPA
Updated 13 August 2022
Authorities in Saudi Arabia arrested a resident who was in possession of 50 kilograms of hashish in the Rijal Alma’a governorate in the Asir region, the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported on Saturday.
The Yemeni resident had hidden the narcotics in the vehicle he was driving when authorities discovered drugs, according to SPA.
Saudi Arabia will continue on attempts to import and export drugs to preserve public security and protection, the Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority said in a statement on Friday, after more than one million contraband pills were found hidden in a consignment that came into the Kingdom through the port of Jeddah.
The authority called on citizens and residents to report any smuggling-related crimes and violations of the provisions of the unified customs system in complete secrecy.
The Visit Saudi platform provides e-services, including the issuance of electronic visas and purchasing of Umrah bundles. The service is available at visitsaudi.com/ar.
Move targets Vision 2030 goal of 30m pilgrims per year
Updated 13 August 2022
JEDDAH: All Saudi visa holders are now permitted to perform Umrah in the wake of a decision by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.
The move aims to ease bureaucracy and open the pilgrimage to more visitors — a target of Vision 2030.
It comes in conjunction with the start of this year’s Umrah season and as part of efforts to facilitate rituals, provide high-quality services and enrich the religious experiences of pilgrims.
The Maqam platform connects pilgrims with authorized tourism companies and agencies. Users from outside the Kingdom can also apply for an Umrah visa, as well as choose service bundles. The platform is available at maqam.gds.haj.gov.sa.
The Visit Saudi platform provides e-services, including the issuance of electronic visas and purchasing of Umrah bundles. The service is available at visitsaudi.com/ar.
Holders of on-arrival visas, among countries eligible for electronic visas, as well as US, UK and Schengen visa holders, can carry out Umrah rituals with ease, provided that the visas are used for one time only and carry the issuing country’s seal.
Family visit and personal visit visa holders can also perform the pilgrimage by booking an appointment through the Eatmarna application during their visits to relatives and friends in the Kingdom, and by applying to the Unified National Visa Platform.
To carry out Umrah rituals, visitors must have comprehensive medical insurance that covers — among other things — the treatment costs of COVID-19, personal incidents resulting in death and disability, and flight delays or cancellations.
Saudi FM holds talks with Maltese counterpart on bilateral relations
Updated 13 August 2022
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan met with his Maltese counterpart Ian Borg during his visit to Malta.
The two ministers held a session of talks, during which they reviewed aspects of relations between the Kingdom and Malta and ways to strengthen and develop them in various fields, in addition to discussing the most prominent issues of common interest.
The meeting and the talks were attended by the Deputy to Italy, Faisal bin Hanif Al-Qahtani, and the director-general of the Office of the foreign minister’s Abdul Rahman Al-Daoud.
How archaeological discoveries in AlUla and Khayba are unearthing Saudi Arabia’s prehistoric past
Thousands of structures, most between 4,000-7,000 years old, have been found in the Kingdom’s northwest
The discoveries are the key to a radical rethinking of the prehistory of the Arabian Peninsula
Updated 13 August 2022
LONDON: To the bedouin, the mysterious structures of uncertain age and unknown origin scattered across the harsh and dramatic landscapes of northwestern Saudi Arabia have always been simply the works of “the old men.”
To the archaeologists who have just completed a four-year project to catalogue all the visible archaeology of AlUla County and the nearby Harrat Khaybar volcanic field, the tens of thousands of structures they have found, most between 4,000 and 7,000 years old, are the key to a radical rethinking of the prehistory of the Arabian Peninsula.
“A lot of the archaeological focus in the region in the past has been on the Fertile Crescent, running through Jordan, Israel and up into Syria and beyond, and little archaeological attention has been paid to this early material of Saudi Arabia,” said archaeologist Dr. Hugh Thomas, a senior research fellow at the University of Western Australia.
“But as we do more and more research, we’re realizing that there was so much more here than small, independent, communities living on nothing much and not doing much in an arid area.
“The reality in that in the Neolithic period these areas were significantly greener, and there would have been really sizeable populations of people and herds of animals moving across these landscapes.”
In the near future, he believes, “I think we are going to make massive discoveries that are going to change how we view the Middle East completely.”
Dr. Thomas is co-director of the Aerial Archaeology in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia project, set up in 2018 by the Royal Commission for AlUla, as part of the Identification and Documentation of the Immovable Heritage Assets of AlUla program. The following year the project was expanded to include the neighboring, heritage-rich region of Khaybar.
A “core” area of AlUla of 3,300 sq. m was surveyed separately by UK-based Oxford Archaeology. Working with staff and students of King Saud University in Riyadh, they identified more than 16,000 archaeological sites.
Setting out initially to survey the AlUla hinterland, an area of more than 22,500 square kilometers, Dr. Thomas and his colleagues faced a daunting task, which they broke down into three stages.
A remote preliminary survey of the entire area, using satellite imagery, was followed by aerial photography of selected sites and, finally, excavation of a small number of the most promising structures.
The first stage lasted more than a year, with team members poring painstakingly over Google Earth and other satellite imagery and pinning every structure they spotted.
For the University of Western Australia team back in Perth, it meant “hour after hour of patiently scrolling through,” Dr. Thomas said.
“Sometimes it was in areas where there was absolutely nothing, just endless kilometers of remote desert. But then at other times you’d find structures all over the place, and you would get through only a few kilometers in a session, because you were constantly finding and pinning new archaeological sites.”
The hard work paid off handsomely.
By the end, they had identified 13,000 sites in AlUla and an extraordinary 130,000 in Khaybar county, dating from the Stone Age to the 20th century. They logged everything they saw, including some of the remains of the Hejaz railway, built by the Ottomans before World War I, but the vast majority of the sites dated from prehistory.
Each site consisted of anything from one structure to clusters of 30 or more, and they have now catalogued more than 150,000 individual structures of archaeological interest, especially in the Khaybar region, where there is “a really dense, significant concentration of archaeological remains.”
After the remote sensing came the really fun part — flying low over the spectacular landscapes of AlUla and Khaybar in helicopters, using open-door photography to record sites previously identified by the satellite survey as being of particular interest.
The pilots, from the Saudi-based The Helicopter Company, flew from site to site along flight paths created by the archaeologists.
“They were commercial pilots who at first had no idea about the archaeology,” Dr. Thomas said. “But they were very keen, and also pretty good at interpreting and spotting things.
“They ended up having a really great understanding, and that was so beneficial to the project. I could say, ‘I’m after three funerary pendants up on an outcrop’, and the pilot would say, ‘Oh, I can see them, in front of us,’ and they’d steer the helicopter round to give you the best photographic angle.”
By the end, he said, “some of the pilots would have seen more archaeology up close than the majority of archaeologists.”
The last aerial photography was carried out in March this year and, by then, the team had captured more than a quarter of a million images across AlUla and Khaybar.
Among the structures they photographed were more than 350 examples of one of the most extraordinary types of large-scale structures scattered across Saudi Arabia’s prehistoric landscape — the mysterious mustatil.
Mustatil is the Arabic word for rectangle, and these often huge, rectangular structures, built by an unknown people more than 8,000 years ago, may be unique to the Arabian peninsula.
More than 1,600 are now known to exist across 300,000 sq. km of northwestern Saudi Arabia, concentrated mainly in the vicinity of AlUla and Khaybar.
Mustatils vary in type — some are more complex than others — but usually they consist of two parallel walls, or occasionally more, joined at either end by shorter walls to create a rectangle. They range in length from 20 to 620 meters and often they are clustered together, in groups numbering anything from two to 19.
In some places, mustatils have been “overbuilt” by subsequent generations who have constructed circular ringed tombs, or so-called pendant tombs, on or very near them.
Building some of the mustatils would have been a big commitment for a considerable number of people. The largest structure ground-surveyed by the AAKSA team, situated on the Harrat Khaybar lava field 50 km south of Khaybar town, was built from basalt boulders and measures 525m in length.
It is estimated that the structure weighs about 12,000 tons, with individual stones weighing between 6 and 500 kg.
Extrapolating from experimental studies carried out on Mayan structures in Guatemala, the archaeologists have estimated that it would have taken a group of 10 people two or three weeks to build a mustatil more than 150m long. Larger structures, up to 500m, could have been constructed by a group of 50 people in about two months.
As Dr. Thomas and his colleagues wrote in a paper published recently in the journal “Antiquity,” not only are mustatils “an important component of the ancient Arabian cultural landscape,” they are also among the earliest stone monuments in Arabia, and “globally one of the oldest monumental building traditions yet identified.”
Of the 1,600 mustatils identified via satellite imagery and the 350 photographed from the air, 39 were selected for ground survey by Thomas’ team. Of these, just a handful were excavated, and these have revealed a wealth of previously unknown information.
In late 2018 and 2019, for example, archaeologists from both the UWA and Oxford teams began excavating undisturbed mustatils east of AlUla valley, and discovered evidence that the structures had served a ritual purpose. Collections of horns and other cranial bone fragments, from animals including cattle, goat and gazelle, were found in chambers in the structures, which could suggest offerings had been made to some long-forgotten deity.
“These are ritual structures, I’d bet my house on it,” Dr. Thomas said.
“We have now excavated five of them, the Oxford Archaeology team has excavated three, and other teams are excavating others too. With the artefacts that are inside, and also the construction techniques that are involved in creating them, there is no practical function for these structures, other than ritual, that would make any sense.”
There is no roofing, the walls are too low for them to have been used for keeping animals in them, and some of them are built on the slopes of mountains that are incredibly steep and difficult to walk up.
Organic remains can be carbon-dated, and the animal bones revealed that the site was late Neolithic – about 7,000 years old. In the past season, however, in a collaboration with the archaeology department at Durham University in the UK, the team has been employing another sophisticated dating technique called Optically Stimulated Luminescence.
This, Dr. Thomas said, “basically allows you to date the last time that sand had light fall directly upon it, which is a really useful technique for dating structures that don’t have any kind of organic deposits within them.”
So far, nothing has been unearthed to suggest why the mustatils were built where they were.
“In some of the locations where we find them we just can’t understand why they were built there,” Dr. Thomas said.
“They might be in a random valley with seemingly not much happening around them. It suggests that people are coming to that spot, creating them, then moving on and probably coming back periodically.”
That, of course, poses the question: what was so special about these sites to these people?
Another, possibly connected, mystery is that the mustatils and even the later Bronze Age burial structures in the region were clearly built to be appreciated not from ground level, but from up above, in the sky.
“What’s fascinating is when you see them from the ground, they’re not that spectacular, just a series of walls,” Dr. Thomas said.
“But as soon as you get in a helicopter, or you look at it on satellite imagery, these things just come to life.”
One theory is that the structures might have been built to be viewed from above by the dead. Another possibility is that they were ritual structures constructed for the benefit of some deity in the sky.
But, as the structures were built long before human beings developed writing, the truth is likely to remain a mystery.
Equally mysterious is where the people came from who built the mustatils — and where they ended up. As yet, no Neolithic burial sites from the same period have been found.
“The hope is that, in the future, we might identify some Neolithic burials,” Dr. Thomas said. “But the reality now is that we’re not sure where the people of the Neolithic are.”
They could have been buried in unmarked graves at random sites, which would make it very hard to find any of them.
“Alternatively, there may be other things that they did to their bodies, which means that we will never find them.”
However, a series of finds in some mustatils has hinted at a perhaps macabre practice in about the mid-fifth millennium BC. Some human remains have been found — but only fragments.
“In one, we found part of a foot and five vertebrae and a couple of long bones. We can tell that while there was still soft tissue attached and holding the bones together, fragments of that body were taken and placed within this mustatil, or next to it.”
There are, however, multiple burial sites in the region — and sometimes close to mustatils — from the Bronze Age, dating from about 2,500 years later.
“There are thousands upon thousands of tombs, pendant burials and larger monumental tombs in the region, indicating that there were large, thriving populations here,” Dr. Thomas said.
The most dramatic examples are located in Khaybar county, to the southeast of AlUla.
“Projecting out of Bronze Age oases are these long pathways, funerary avenues, flanked by thousands of tombs, creating a really significant funerary landscape.”
The next objective for the team is “to focus on this shifting idea of monumentality. In the Neolithic period, for whatever reason, something occurred that meant that people started creating these absolutely massive ritual structures, over a 300 to 500-year period.
“Then it stopped. Archaeologically, from about 4,800 down to about 2600 BC, we find very little — some domestic structures, but not many graves.
“Then suddenly these monumental burials start appearing across the landscape. Why this shift from the mustatil, monumental ritual structures, to the focus 2,000 years later on the individual, or family groups, that were being buried in these structures?
“What happened in those few thousand years?”
Whatever the answer, the vast number of mustatils identified — about 1,600 in an area roughly the size of Poland — not only puts Saudi Arabia’s ancient past in a Neolithic class of its own, but has global repercussions.
“When we look at Neolithic landscapes across the world, often you’re only finding a handful of structures, less than a dozen,” Dr. Thomas said.
“So to have something like the mustatil, where you’ve got well over 1,000, covering such a significant area, really changes how we have to view the Neolithic.
“It indicates that the Neolithic is much more complex than we originally thought.
“And, as more research comes out about the mustatil, I think that will completely revolutionize how we view Neolithic societies, not just in Arabia but across the rest of the world.”
There will be 12 archaeological teams at work in the field this autumn, exploring the past cultures of AlUla and Khaybar from prehistory to the early 20th century. Stone structures of the late prehistoric period will remain a key focus.