Thursday, July 06, 2006

Visit Saudi Arabia!

Bismillah Arrahman AlRaheem: In the Name of Allah The Most Beneficient The Most Merciful
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Greetings All,

I'm back in Mesa Arizona after spending the last long weekend in San Jose California visiting my good friend and business partner Nick.. I had a great time and caught up with some old friends..

I also saw Devil Wears Prada which I consider Meryl Streep's third Oscar nomination right off the bat..

I found this article, and it answered a lot of the questions about Saudi Arabia that I get asked especially with regards to travel.. so I hope this helps :)

COMMENTS ARE HIGHLY VALUED ON THIS BLOG, positive or negative :)

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http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/traveloutdoors/2003103026_websauditourism03.html

Visit Saudi Arabia, but dress and behave appropriately
By Lara Sukhtian
The Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia seems an unlikely destination for fun in the sun.

Yet here was a Saudi prince at a tourism conference in neighboring Dubai, busily trying to sell his country as a vacation spot — provided visitors don't expect alcohol, women come robed, and everyone refrains from eating in public from dawn to dusk during the holy month of Ramadan.

And swinging singles need not apply. Women younger than 40 must be accompanied by their brothers or fathers.

Undaunted, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, until recently accessible to only a handful of non-Muslim tourists, is opening its doors, beckoning curious world travelers to its mysterious and hidden treasures.

The change springs from the new policies of King Abdullah, who ascended the throne last August after the death of his half-brother, King Fahd.

Abdullah, a reformer, wants to show that his country is more than just the former home of Osama bin Laden and a breeding ground for Islamic extremism.

"He wants to show the world a different face to the kingdom. It's all part of a greater plan to open up the country, to show that though it is Arab and Islamic, it is also modern and moderate," said Mishari al Thaybi, a Saudi writer and analyst for the London-based newspaper Al Sharq al Awsat.

"Tourists are the best ambassadors for any country," Mishari added.

The king, together with the country's tourism commission, wants to wash out the stain left on the Saudi reputation by the Sept. 11 attacks, in which 15 of the 19 hijackers were from the oil-rich desert kingdom.




At a recent tourism exhibition in Dubai, Prince Sultan bin Salman bin Abdel Aziz, secretary-general of the Saudi tourism commission, announced the kingdom was in the process of licensing 18 tour operators to issue tourist visas to non-Muslim visitors from the West and Asia.
For the past six years, since the country first cracked open the door to tourism, Saudi Arabian Airlines had been the country's only licensed operator of tours to an ultraconservative land known for being reclusive.

"It not a problem for us to open up. We just want to make sure we are doing it right," Prince Sultan said.

Saudi officials characterize the number of nonreligious visitors so far as only "a handful," but they hope to boost that to 50,000 a year initially and to 200,000 annually by 2010.

But the opening comes with strict rules.

According to the tourism commission, only single entry visas will be issued. Coed tours will be allowed — as long as a father or brother is with any women under 40. Visitors must follow local customs, and a booklet printed in several languages will be distributed to tourists instructing them on Saudi's strict social traditions.

"The tourists must comply with the social conducts of the kingdom, to know what's allowed and what's not allowed, what to wear and what not to wear," said Saad al-Kadi, adviser to Prince Sultan.

All female tourists will be required to dress according to Saudi tradition: covered from head to toe with only their face, hands and feet exposed. And in the most conservative city, the capital, Riyadh, women must wear a black robe over their clothes. If tourists choose to travel during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, tourists will not be allowed to eat or drink in public during fasting hours.

One thing visitors won't do, however, is tour Islam's most holy sites, including the cities Mecca and Medina. They are off limits to non-Muslims.

But there is a lot for tourists to do.

There is an ancient rose-colored Nabatean city carved in sandstone, along with hundreds of cultural and archaeological sites, such as the remains of the Hijaz railway — built in 1900 to allow Muslim pilgrims to travel to Saudi holy cities from other parts of the Ottoman Empire.

Mountains abundant with vegetation and wildlife offer a verdant contrast to the desert, a sprawling expanses where visitors can take excursions.

And there's scuba diving. With more than 1,000 miles of coast along the Red Sea and just under 500 miles of beach along the Persian Gulf, Saudi Arabia is home to some of the world's most spectacular dive sites.

"It is the last untouched tropical coral reef in the world, simply because of Saudi Arabian paranoia. And thank God for it," said Eric Mason, executive manager of Dream Divers in Saudi Arabia. "This place is a divers dream come true."

Mason's company has been offering scuba diving trips for more than three years, drawing coral reef enthusiasts from Europe and Asia.

An avid fan of a country he has lived in for 35 years, this Nigerian born son of an Italian mother and English father calls Saudi Arabia home and says the campaign to boost tourism will improve its image abroad.

"Saudi Arabia is supposed to be a police state, it's supposed to be a hotbed of terrorists. People are frightened of it. They don't understand it. Now they will come and see the truth for themselves," Mason said.

But how will women scuba dive when they are supposed to be draped in a black robe? Both al-Kadi and Mason said there can always be an exception to the rules, as long as its not flaunted.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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-YSH ;)

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

As-salamu-alaikum,

Before Saudi starts promoting tourism, it should work on training it's airport employees. They way asians are treated at saudi airports would not give anyone a postive picture of the country.

8:59 AM  
Blogger Raven said...

Anonymous,

Wa Alaikum alsalam..

I agree, we have numerous lessons in tourism we need to learn. Especially at airports such as the one in Jeddah..

It will take time and patience.. In sha Allah..

Y

9:29 AM  
Anonymous sunrunner said...

As someone who lived in Riyadh for a time, I cannot imagine how tourism can really be viable -- at least for non-muslims. most people when they go on vacation want to enjoy themselves, not be re-educated.

It took me quite awhile to learn my way around a whole slew of unexpected rules when I first went -- often the reaction I "provoked" was truly frightening. I will never forget the time I was quite viciously chased (a polite - you are not allowed would've been sufficient) out of a fast food place in a mall to get something to drink, because I didn't go in the women's entrance (who would've thunkit?).

There are beautiful beaches and desert landscapes in so many other -- easier -- places, even in the middle east. Also -- it is interesting that so many Saudis get on the first plane out of the country as soon as the summer holiday season begins. Saudi is not a place which is famous for "fun!"

1:13 PM  
Blogger Raven said...

Sunrunner,

Your comments are appreciated.

I am sorry for how you have been treated, we still have a lot of educating to do, and I agree that a polite gesture would have been more appropriate, but ignorant people are over the world and I have travelled to more than 25 different countries and I haven't always been treated with polite gestures...

It is true that people wish to enjoy themselves when they go on vacation. However I still think it is possible to have "fun" in Riyadh.. It does however depend on your definition of fun.

If fun to you means: nightclubs, mixing, movie theaters, etc., then you won't have that kind of fun in a place like Riyadh.

But if you are a fan of desert trekking, dune buggies, cultural and traditional sites, and modern shopping venues, then Riyadh will provide that and much more, there are of course rules and limitations that may alientate many people.

But again, this is our country, this is how we choose to live, and those that aren't happy with it aren't forced to come, and many Saudis have chosen to live abroad because they didn't like life in Saudi. However, I know a lot of people that are more than satisfied with the status quo, including a huge number of non-Muslims that stay and enjoy it because they make an effort to enjoy it (even though they may only stay there for the money).


Rnjoying yourself isn't just about rules and places to go, it's about learning to enjoy the simpler things in life, like good companionship and a hearty meal.


It's true that desert landscapes are available elsewhere, but being born and raised in Riyadh, and going back to visit every 6 months or so, it still has it's own identity that I have grown to love and cherish the more places I visit..

Y

1:31 PM  
Anonymous sunrunner said...

I know that there are rude people everywhere -- as I have also travelled a lot. But the business of being chased (and/or threatened with a muttawa stick) is a bit over the top. I don't think many men can really relate to what it feels like, not even western men really "got" how humiliating it was.

Actually, I learned to have a lot of fun in the deserts around Riyadh. It was the one place I could feel totally free. Every Friday afternoon, a group of westerners would gather at a pre-arranged (secret location -- we were all faxed maps the day before!) to go for a run (or a good healthy walk) in the desert in and out of the wadis -- it was fabulous. Particularly for the woman as we could shed our abayas and run in shorts and sneakers (yay!!!). Afterwards we would hang out and eat watermelon and watch the sun set. Sometimes camping parties would be organized and we stay up all night under the stars and feast and generally have a good time. Sometimes a few bedouin would show up and join in the fun!

The sad thing was that the reason that all of this was fun was that we figured out how to stay one step ahead of the muttawa. We were careful not to draw attention (picked up all our litter etc) and it was really harmless clean fun, but totally against the law. I didn't mind the abaya too much in the city (but the no driving part was really really a drag -- as it made it very complicated and often expensive to get out to the house) but the time in the desert was what really made it possible for me to enjoy Riyadh. I do miss the landscape and the lovely lovely rocks (I really love rocks!).

Now I am going to go and read your very interesting (and long lol) post about the Saudi economy.

12:49 PM  
Blogger Raven said...

Sunrunner,

Thanks for visiting again.. it is true, being constantly chased is annoying and you feel like you can only have fun in secrecy..

But the Haya'a are in Saudi for a reason, they are there to make sure Islamic law is observed. It is very easy for people to lose track and just ignore the teachings especially when the media is as pollutive as it is these days..

Funny enough, I have friends in Dubai that are jealous of Riyadh and how lucky we are that we have a force to remind people to pray and make sure people are dressed and act appropriately! And these aren't strict Muslims from Dubai either, these are western-educated individuals that realize that if you leave the population to do whatever they want that bad almost always overcomes good..

People try to imitate other cultures to seem unique forgetting their true Muslim identity.

Now I am not agreeing with all of the actions that the Haya'a do as there are serious offenses that they commit that are in no way relating to the religion, however their actions "in general" are for the greater good.

If you read Islamic history, there were always officers that roamed the streets at night to make sure everything was under control, Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) did it himself to make sure that the people's needs were taken care of, though the religious police can't be compared to Umar, we can't say that they are all bad.

There have been many drug busts, secret alcohol factories, and prostitution houses stopped because of them, as well as many teenagers that were corrected when they were led astray.

I am impressed with the recent law that was passed that prevents Haya'a for taking the law into their own hands, now they are solely permitted to stop and advise, and if matters complicate they escort the person to the police station, that's it, no more punishment at their HQ etc.

Also, the word "Mutawwa" is a common misnomer, Muttawwa stems from the word "ta'ah" which means obedience, and in Arabic it is used for anyone that obeys Islam strictly. Thus Haya'a officer would be more accurate since not all of them are really "Muttawa" because there are those that commit offenses against Islam in the ranks.

But the goverment has recently revised all the training they get, so i'm looking forward to a positive "religious police" force that knows what it's doing in sha Allah.. :)

Y

1:03 PM  

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