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Saudi Arabia Is Opening Its Doors: But What Will You See Once There?
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The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is opening up to the world. It used to be absolutely impossible to get a visa to enter, unless you were a religious pilgrim (therefore officially a Muslim), NATO military personnel, or a businessman or woman, invited by a local company or by the Saudi government. Even if you secured approval, visas were outrageously expensive, costing several hundreds of dollars. The only loophole was a “transit visa” for those who were going to drive from Oman or Bahrain, to Jordan.

Tourism was not recognized as a reason to visit the KSA. There were simply no tourist visas issued. Full stop.

Then, suddenly, everything changed, at the very end of September 2019. The Saudi government introduced e-visas, for 49 nation nationalities, including the USA, Canada, all nationals of the European Union, as well as the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China (including Hong Kong and Macau).

Everything has been streamlined. The formerly brutal international airports of Riyadh (the capital), Jeddah and Dammam, received incredible facelifts. Now, friendly ladies (still in hijab), speaking perfect English, are processing first-time visitors, taking their fingerprints, photographing them, then welcoming them to Saudi Arabia. There are rating buttons on the walls of the immigration booths: “How are we serving you?” From excellent, to terrible. Riyadh Airport is now clean, well illuminated, and pleasant.

All over the capital city, foreign women are now walking with fully exposed hair: at the airport, in all major hotels of Riyadh, office buildings, even inside the luxury malls.

The Royal Family is sending a clear message to the world: things are rapidly changing: Saudi Arabia is not what it used to be a few years ago. Women can now drive, foreigners (some, at least from the rich countries) can enter the country, and the dress-code for women is getting more and more relaxed.

Words like “the arts” and “culture” have been reintroduced into the local lexicon, after being nearly extinct for decades.

Saudi Arabia has a wide range of problems. They include corruption, the increasing dissatisfaction of the middle classes, the great desperation of the poor, vulnerability of oil prices, cross-border retaliatory attacks by the Houthis in Yemen, the imminent defeat of the Saudi extremist allies in Syria, the prolonged conflict with Qatar, as well as a still undiversified economy based on the export of oil.

After cutting the journalist, Jamal Khashoggi into pieces, precisely one year ago, the KSA suddenly drew strong criticism from all corners of the world.

The continuous killing of tens of thousands of innocent Yemeni civilians has evoked wrath in progressive circles worldwide.

The rulers in Riyadh had to re-think many issues. They calculated, and came to the conclusion that the best way to act would be to open up the country, and basically demonstrate to the would that the Kingdom is “not as bad” as many would like to believe.

The risk is great. Could this strategy really work? Or would it backfire?

 

Politics aside, Saudi Arabia is a “specific place”, and definitely not to everyone’s liking.

To give it credit where it is due, it counts on some stunning vistas, on endless deserts, dunes and oases producing dates and delicious fruits. It is dotted with castles and forts, and of course, as the cradle of Islam, it has some of the most incredible historic sites.

A few years ago, the National Museum in Beijing, China, exhibited thousands of historic objects and images from the KSA. To those of us who visited, it was a tremendous discovery.

Unfortunately, what can be shown in China, could not always be allowed in Riyadh, Jeddah, Macca and Medina.

For decades, the Saudi extremist Wahhabism has been fighting against everything that is not perceived as holy: music, films, non-religious books, even the images of animals.

This religious extremism has been exported to all corners of the world. Paradoxically and bizarrely, it has been intertwined with Western, particularly North American, “culture”. Extreme capitalism has been thriving all over the Kingdom. More oil, more kitsch.

Tremendous Muslim monuments had been dwarfed by lavish malls, badly designed and overpriced hotels, car culture and cheap US eateries such as Big M, Dunkin Donuts and Pizza Hut.

There is hardly any city planning, or connectivity in the major cities like Dammam, Jeddah and Riyadh, even when compared with the neighboring Dubai, Doha or Muscat.

According to The Independent:

“The destruction of sites associated with early Islam is an ongoing phenomenon that has occurred mainly in the Hejaz region of western Saudi Arabia, particularly around the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The demolition has focused on mosques, burial sites, homes and historical locations associated with the Islamic prophet Muhammad and many of the founding personalities of early Islamic history.

Vulgar luxury malls and 5-star hotels for the super-rich pilgrims are now literally encircling the holiest site in Macca.

But it is not only religious sites that are being ruined.

During this recent visit, I drove to the At-Turaif District in ad-Dir’iyah, some 20 kilometers from Riyadh, once a stunning World Heritage site designated by UNESCO. This location of the first Saudi Dynasty was “undergoing renovation”. Read: entire areas of traditional houses and ancient streets, squares and courtyards have been “rearranged”; destroyed. A modern mall has been erected. I was told that soon, more areas will give way to the fake buildings. Al-Turaif District has already been nicknamed the “Beverly Hills of Saudi Arabia.”

What’s next, nobody knows. But one thing is certain: if the rulers of Saudi Arabia want to attract visitors from the West, Russia, China or Japan, in order to diversify its economy, they’d have to offer a bit more than clogged roads, shopping malls, broken sidewalks and kitschy hotels and restaurants.

 

ORDER IT NOW

Saudi Arabia is extremely rich (although not as rich as Qatar), at least on paper. But it is full of absolute misery, from slums to beggars whose arms were amputated at a young age, so they could evoke the pity of motorists, and generate higher incomes for the mafias that are pimping them.

In many luxury malls, there are sexy, almost pornographic lingerie stores for the upper class wives, while outside, millions of manual workers, mainly from the sub-Continent, Africa and the Philippines, are living in destitution, not unlike that which they left behind in their native lands.

Politically, Saudi Arabia is, together with Israel, the closest ally of the United States.

And it shows. In those proverbial 5-star hotels that cost in Riyadh, double what they do even in Qatar, stereotypical Western ‘development-types’ are lecturing locals, openly, arrogantly and without any shame.

Visa restrictions have been eased, but mass tourism in the KSA is still hard to imagine. The country is not ready for culture-oriented types, for history connoisseurs, or for people on average budgets.

There is no way of walking here. There is no public transportation to speak of, yet. Even getting a taxi can be an ordeal, as everything is designed for private cars.

The prices are outrageous and the quality of services very, very low. Crime rates high.

It will take some time to convince foreigners to come.

 

But an attempt to bring the world into KSA is there. Changes are in the air.

The National Museum in Riyadh opened its doors. The building is magnificent, although exhibitions are, to put it mildly, very poor. The new National Library is stunning, although the selection of books is very limited. Research centers mainly highlight the activities of the Royal Family. A new mass rapid system is being constructed, but no one knows exactly when it will become operational.

I am interested in this complex country. I want to come back, and understand more; for years I am writing about Wahhabism and the deadly alliance with the UK, and then the US. And, honestly, I have always been fascinated with the deserts and with the people who inhabit them.

Considering my strong criticism of the KSA foreign policy, including my frequent appearances on the Iranian Press TV, I was a bit worried about this visit, but I was holding an “official”, not “e” visa, and in the end, nothing bad happened. The people that I met were kind and open with me. Now, I am writing this short essay on board Sri Lankan Airlines, bound for Colombo, alive and well.

 

Diversification could prove to be extremely positive for the people of Saudi Arabia. Both Russia and China are now making important inroads, and soon, there will be substantial investment from both countries, in the Saudi oil industry, as well as tourism and other sectors. Chinese and Russian people are curious and daring. They will come. Many will. Saudis know it.

At the National Museum in Riyadh, a receptionist asked where I was from, in English. I answered, “I am Russian”. He hesitated for just a few seconds, then smiled and uttered: “Privet! Kak dela?” (“Greetings, how are you doing?”) Perhaps he had to learn those few words of greeting in all world languages. Or perhaps not. Maybe he was studying Russian.

The rulers of the KSA are very secretive people. No one really knows which direction the country is going to evolve in the next few years. Could the KSA one day become “neutral”? I don’t know.

But one thing is certain: something is moving, brewing and evolving. KSA is not the same country as it was five years ago. In the future, perhaps five years from now, it may become unrecognizable.

 

[First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook – a journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences]

Andre Vltchek is a philosopher, novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He has covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. Four of his latest books are Revolutionary Optimism, Western Nihilism, a revolutionary novel “Aurora” and a bestselling work of political non-fiction: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire”. View his other books here. Watch Rwanda Gambit, his groundbreaking documentary about Rwanda and DRCongo and his film/dialogue with Noam Chomsky “On Western Terrorism”. Vltchek presently resides in East Asia and the Middle East, and continues to work around the world. He can be reached through his website and his Twitter. His Patreon

 
• Category: Culture/Society • Tags: Saudi Arabia 
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  1. Hossein says:

    Changes for better should be welcomed. Perhaps such changes, though slow and gradual, can finally put a dagger into the heart of Wahabi ideology and other restrictive social forms.
    Obviously such opening and reforms are results of pressure from different segments of society and in particular the young who make up a very large part of the country.

  2. Lin says:

    An old but interesting article: Saudi kingdom in the closet
    https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/05/the-kingdom-in-the-closet/305774/
    ………….
    Edward Said,probably the best known Palestinian intellectual, said homosexuality among arabs was ‘orientalised’/stereotyped. Is it expected that in a culure which penalizes pre-marital hetero relationship, the men would find other wholely places?
    …..
    Be reminded that the Ottomans decriminalized homosexuality 109 yrs before england did.

    • Replies: @Europe natonalist
  3. anon[592] • Disclaimer says:

    even as an”anti muslim” im starting to feel sorry for you and your future.

  4. @Lin

    Apparently Iran performs the most sex changes in the world after Thailand, which is their way of making homosexuality religiously acceptable.

    I think that shows how ingrained homosexuality must be in the culture if they’re trying to find ways to make it compatible with Islam.

    • Replies: @Lin
  5. Lin says:
    @Europe natonalist

    Actually the semite views on queerdom are enshrined in both the new and old testaments and apparently the interpretation has evolved:
    — Leviticus 18:22: “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; it is an abomination”
    According to what I read that means a man mounting on another man. A Lubavitcher told me that issue had been resolved by NY jewish fags: They fuck standing up ( ‘march-in’ is the catch word.), so it’s OK.
    –Look, there’s no 11th Commandment that goes: “Thos Shalt not Comfort Thy Staff with Thy Rod”
    –The Sodom fire and brimstones was punishment on rapists, not homos.
    –Let me recap an older post of mine:
    Yaweh is genderless or hermaphrodite and Adam was recreated in ‘His’ image. Yahweh didn’t clone Eve from a rib of Adam until Adam tried bestiality. Adam, 1)like other mammals had nipples and potentially was capable of breast feeding. 2)Location of the prostate gland enable man on man rectal sex.
    …..
    We all know the Vatican has been a huge closet. Pope Paul II was literally fucked to death by his page boy.
    –Israel is the most gay friendly country on earth and Tel Aviv actually is the Mecca to gay arabs.
    https://forward.com/opinion/1125/for-gay-palestinians-tel-aviv-is-mecca/

  6. Kirt says:

    This makes me think of Gorbachev opening up the USSR. Within a few years, the USSR was gone. I think the same thing may happen to the KSA, but not so peacefully. How long will the poor masses of the KSA, including millions of foreign guest workers, tolerate a system designed not merely to enrich the royal family but to entertain wealthy non-Moslem foreigners? Combine this with losing a war to a much poorer Yemen and you have a formula for revolution, civil war, and foreign intervention which will make Syria seem like a walk in the park by comparison. The US is currently sending thousands of troops to the KSA, so American involvement is already a given.

    • Agree: Commentator Mike
    • Replies: @RadicalCenter
  7. I would trust the Soggy Arabians about as far as I could throw Jamal Khashoggi (before they dismembered him). Besides, even if I was stupid enough to apply for a visa to that despicable place, I am betting that they would deny it after taking one look at my name, right after cashing my check.

  8. @Kirt

    The US should stay out or just exterminate the entire “royal family” and their hangers—on (tens of thousands of people) and take the oil fields permanently. I prefer staying out, but if they get in, get us something tangible in return. Us being Americans, not Israelis.

    I’m sure they’ll find a third option that leads to no benefit at all for the American people or the world.

    • Agree: The Anti-Gnostic
  9. I lived for several years in Saudi Arabia and wrote a book, Fool’s Paradise, published in 1988 by Random House in U.S. and Bloomsbury in England, and shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize that year. I travel, and comment. The reader is put right there. If anyone is curious, there are good reviews on Amazon. Dale Walker

  10. Bliss says:

    From Andre’s article:

    “The destruction of sites associated with early Islam is an ongoing phenomenon that has occurred mainly in the Hejaz region of western Saudi Arabia, particularly around the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. The demolition has focused on mosques, burial sites, homes and historical locations associated with the Islamic prophet Muhammad and many of the founding personalities of early Islamic history.”

    Well done Wahhabis, kudos to you. All that’s left for you to do now is to bulldoze the “House of Allah”, aka Kaaba, in Mecca and that will be the end of this retarded religion. Make Allah homeless. Liberate the 1.5 billion brainwashed bumpkins.

    God is everywhere, including in us. There is no place that is not God’s home.

    • Replies: @Lin
  11. Lin says:
    @Bliss

    All that’s left for you to do now is to bulldoze the “House of Allah”, aka Kaaba, in Mecca and that will be the end of this retarded religion.

    I disagree.
    Prophet Mohamet is definitely the greatest arab national/tribal hero ever.
    NO CONTEST
    Imagine that he elevated the arabs, semite tribes scattered throughout the middle east into a major civilisation.
    Sure one can ID some of his doings to the dislike of many but then he was no different from the powerful political figures of his time.
    Addressing someone ‘your holiness/majesty/reverence….(take your pick)..” doesn’t necessarily mean that person is ‘holy/majestic/reverential deserving…’

    • Replies: @The Anti-Gnostic
  12. @Lin

    He brutally homogenized the MENA region with a rapacious, fundamentalist creed, wiping out numerous refined, uniquely Mediterranean cultures with his Arab supremacism.

    Mohammed’s final monuments will be skyscrapers slowly deteriorating in the desert, uninhabitable because nobody can figure out how to make the air conditioning work, and there’s no energy for them in any event.

    • Replies: @Corvinus
    , @Lin
  13. Corvinus says:
    @The Anti-Gnostic

    “Mohammed’s final monuments will be skyscrapers slowly deteriorating in the desert, uninhabitable because nobody can figure out how to make the air conditioning work, and there’s no energy for them in any event.”

    LOL. Try again.

    https://blogs.worldbank.org/climatechange/climate-smart-air-conditioning-has-potential-keep-saudi-arabia-cool-without-heating

  14. Lin says:
    @The Anti-Gnostic

    You’re correct to certain extend.
    — Bismullah, Irahman Irahim —
    Let me recap what I posted at other threads here:
    A religion could be:
    –Aspiration of its founder,
    –Cultural heritage of a people, but more often :
    –to individuals as being and identity, like burqua worn by muslim women in kufir countries
    –Geopolitically, a vehicle of racial/tribal/nationalistic interests.(That arab mohamedan vehicle of power was once hijacked by the Ottoman turks)
    ……..
    The best example of the last attribute was the fact that very ‘religious’ Saudi saladis allied with the kufir anglos and french to defeat the muslim Ottoman in WW1. Treason of the worst kind but fine with them. Right now islam in Saudi arabia has even decayed into a vehicle for the wealth and power of the House of Saud.
    ……
    Arab muslims often claim petroleum is Allah’s gift to the arabs but Allah’s generosity is NOT unconditional. My naked winged humanoid belle messenger told me(last night while I slept) that Allah will write off the Saudis with the gift of controlled nuclear fusion to the kufirs.
    ….
    Islam will evolve(like some other religions)into something different.
    BTW, Frank Herbert’s Dune will have a movie remake next year; worth watching.

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