Homeless US woman charged with assaulting Saudi student, ripping off her hijab

Jasmine Renee Campbell, 23, is accused of causing the victim irrevocable psychological damage. (Multnomah County Sheriff's Office)
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Updated 05 January 2020

Homeless US woman charged with assaulting Saudi student, ripping off her hijab

  • The victim – who has not been named – says she is too afraid to continue wearing her hijab in the US
  • Jasmine Renee Campbell, 23, is accused of causing the victim irrevocable psychological damage to the student in Portland, Oregon

RIYADH: A US court has charged a homeless woman with hate crimes after she attacked a Saudi exchange student, ripped the woman’s hijab off, attempted to strangle the student and then stripped naked before wiping her own body with it.

Now the victim – who has not been named – says she is too afraid to continue wearing her hijab in the US.

Jasmine Renee Campbell, 23, is accused of causing the victim irrevocable psychological damage to the student in Portland, Oregon.

According to court documents, the incident occurred at a downtown Portland MAX train station on Nov. 12, 2019, at about 7:20 p.m.

Campbell is accused of forcefully removing the 24-year-old Saudi student’s hijab and attempting to choke her with it.

It is claimed Campbell then removed her clothes except for a jacket, rubbed the victim’s hijab on parts of her naked body, until bystanders called the police to the scene.

She also faces two counts of second-degree bias crime, one count of attempted strangulation, one count of harassment, and one count of third-degree criminal mischief. The case is being investigated by the Portland Police Bureau.

According to the report, the victim told police she no longer felt safe wearing a hijab in public and had to rely on alternative methods to keep herself covered.

Campbell told police she was “fighting and playing around,” that she “wanted to be a stripper,” and she wanted to “show the victim that she did not have to be a Muslim.”

The report further reveals that on Dec. 13, 2019, the Portland Police Bureau located and arrested Campbell for an unrelated crime.

She was scheduled to appear in Multnomah County Circuit Court on Jan. 3, 2020, but failed to appear. A warrant for Campbell’s arrest remains active.

In an article posted on Jan. 3, Campbell told Local news outlet, FOX 12 Oregon, she was not trying to hurt anyone. According to her, she was drunk and also suffered from mental health issues.

Campbell said she missed the court hearing because of treatment she received for her illness.

According to court records Campbell said she did not know the victim.

The issue of the hijab is one of the most discussed among Arab women living in the US.

Some women openly wear hijab, some resort to different types of hats and some Arab women avoid wearing one altogether.

Noor Ali, who studied in the US for six years, says she wears her hijab in Arab countries, but takes it off when she goes to America.

“I am a proud hijabi, and I love my hijab, but I used to live in Arizona, and it just was not safe to wear a hijab there,” she told Arab News.

She feels guilty over the admission but maintains that it was only due to safety reasons.

And Kholood Alayman, a student in Texas, said she lived in a more “intolerant” state, which caused her to worry over her hijab almost daily. But nonetheless, she continues to wear it.

But she said she had been lucky, so far: “Every time I hear about a Muslim woman harassed, abused, or worse for her hijab, all I can think of is ‘that could have been me’,” she said.


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

Updated 02 December 2022

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.”

 
 

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Why corporate optimism in Saudi Arabia and UAE remains widespread despite global economic headwinds

Updated 02 December 2022

Why corporate optimism in Saudi Arabia and UAE remains widespread despite global economic headwinds

  • Survey suggests businesses are drawing confidence from governments’ ambitious blueprints
  • Climate change and sustainability issues high on the agenda for businesses in both countries

LONDON: A new survey of business leaders in Saudi Arabia and the UAE reveals widespread corporate optimism in the two countries about the coming year, despite the uncertainties and challenges that have plagued the global economy in 2022.

Overall, 70 percent of 250 decision-makers representing a wide range of sectors expressed optimism about the prospects for the global economy in 2023, with 46 percent declaring themselves to be very optimistic.

There is widespread corporate optimism in Saudi Arabia and UAE. (AFP)

The survey was carried out for Gedeon Mohr & Partners, a newly formed Dubai-based consultancy focused on the retail, entertainment, destinations, and hospitality sectors, all of which are set to play an increasingly important role in transforming the economies of the Arab Gulf region.

“It is hugely positive to see a majority of business leaders across the UAE and KSA being so optimistic about the future of the economy, recognising the vibrant business ecosystem and opportunities in the region,” said Maria Gedeon, CEO and founder of Gedeon Mohr & Partners.

There were, she said, several reasons for the robust picture of regional optimism that has emerged from the survey.

“Obviously, we’re lucky to have had an increase in oil prices, so naturally the economy is in better health than anywhere else in the world right now. Also, geographically the region is far from the Russia-Ukraine war, and less affected than Europe by higher prices and so on.

“But overall, I think the sentiment is better because of the amount of work that the two governments are putting into developing the economies, increasing quality of life, and attracting foreigners and expatriates to this part of the world.”

The survey also showed that overall 29 percent of business leaders in the two countries — 22 percent in the UAE, rising to 37 percent in Saudi Arabia  — were slightly or very concerned about what the new year might bring.

There were several reasons for the robust picture of regional optimism that has emerged from the survey. (AFP)

“I would assume that these are probably working for global organizations, because they’ve had layoffs and a lot of financial issues, and slowdowns in growth, and so on,” said Gedeon.

Businesses in the two countries are drawing guidance and confidence, she said, from the ambitious blueprints set out by governments.

“Both of these countries have published their visions, the Kingdom for 2030 and the UAE for 2031, and in Saudi (Arabia) especially the mega-projects, such as NEOM, the Red Sea project and Qiddiya, and the massive investments in infrastructure, are tremendous economic catalysts.”

In November the International Monetary Fund predicted that GDP growth in Saudi Arabia would be 7.6 percent for 2022, placing it among the top five high-growth economies in the world.

Gulf Cooperation Council policymakers as a whole, said the IMF, had “managed to quickly mitigate the economic impact of the twin COVID-19 and oil price shocks.”

Even though global commodity prices had surged, it added: “The outlook is more positive for GCC countries, with new challenges linked to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and tighter global financial conditions expected to have a limited impact on GCC economies.”

The IMF also offered a cautionary note, warning that even as the GCC states benefit from “higher, albeit volatile, oil and gas prices, numerous risks still cloud the outlook  — notably, a slowdown in the global economy.

“In this context, the reform momentum established in previous years should be maintained … to ensure equity between generations and a smooth energy transition out of fossil fuels.”

Saudi mega-projects, such as NEOM, the Red Sea project and Qiddiya, and the massive investments in infrastructure, are tremendous economic catalysts. (AFP)

This, said Gedeon, was exactly what was happening, as Saudi Arabia works to diversify its economy and open up its society. As a senior manager with the UAE’s Majid Al-Futtaim Group, the malls to hotels, retail and entertainment giant, she had direct experience of the ongoing program of social and economic reforms in Saudi Arabia when she worked on the introduction of the group’s Vox Cinemas chain in the country.

Both of the Gulf states “will keep investing in oil, but they are keen to diversify,” she said, and one clear way ahead is “driving significant tourism to very beautiful countries.”

One thing that emerges strongly from the survey is that climate change and sustainability issues are rising to the top of the agenda for businesses in both countries. Asked how important sustainability was to their business, 90 percent of respondents in the UAE and 85 percent in Saudi Arabia said it was very important. Overall, only 2 percent said it was not important.

Climate change was also seen as the biggest threat to business in 2023 by 11 percent of respondents in the UAE, and 18 percent in Saudi Arabia.

However, more surprising, and concerning, says Gedeon, is the attitude that emerges from the survey in both countries toward the thorny corporate issue of ESG, or environmental, social and governance, a metric increasingly valued by investors and consumers as a measure of how companies impact upon, and interact with, society and the environment.

GCC policymakers as a whole, said the IMF, had “managed to quickly mitigate the economic impact of the twin COVID-19 and oil price shocks.” (AFP)

In its recent 2022 Social & Governance Report, PwC Middle East concluded that “embedding environmental, social and governance principles across all areas of economic and social evolution is essential to realizing the ambitions of our region, enabling it to become a leader on the global sustainability stage.”

In the new survey, says Gedeon, “sustainability and business growth top the agenda, yet what is clear is that while leaders care about climate change, there is still a great deal of work to do around ESG, which provides an opportunity for sustainable growth.”

The bottom line, she says, is that increasingly “consumers want to purchase from and be associated with brands that have a solid purpose, and that are doing good for the planet and the organization.

“Consumers will no longer buy a product from a company or brand that is not respecting all of these sustainability and ESG pillars, and companies that aren’t doing so will just become obsolete if they’re not transparent about their policies and procedures, about how they’re offsetting their carbon footprint.”

“It is hugely positive to see a majority of business leaders across the UAE and KSA being so optimistic about the future of the economy, recognising the vibrant business ecosystem and opportunities in the region,” said Maria Gedeon. (Supplied)

Again, government initiatives are likely to force the pace. The staging of COP27 in Egypt last month, and the fact that the next Conference of the Parties will take place in the UAE next year, has put environmental and social responsibility issues front and center in the thinking of governments, businesses and individuals throughout the region.

It is also hugely significant that the UAE and Saudi Arabia, two of the world’s biggest oil producers, have committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and 2060 respectively — ambitious targets that will demand the collaboration and cooperation of businesses across every sector, and will almost certainly be legislated for.

One issue of concern that slightly overshadows the overall confidence identified by the survey is the recruitment and retention of the talent necessary for companies to perform at their best.

While overall 62 percent of business leaders felt they had the right talent in their business going into 2023, there were significant concerns about workforce challenges in the year ahead. Overall, 18 percent were worried about being able to attract talent, and 10 percent about retaining the talent they already had.

Despite the generally positive experience of remote working during COVID-19 lockdowns, a quarter of all respondents also saw hybrid working as a challenge in 2023. One reason, said Gedeon, was because of the unique nature of many of the big projects underway, especially in Saudi Arabia.

“A lot of these projects are truly remote and you need to be there, watching the project grow,” she said.

“If you’re developing on the Red Sea, it’s going to be very difficult to manage the project operating from New York, London, or even Dubai.

“So, there’s an eagerness to have people on site at projects such as NEOM, and they are building staff accommodation and even schools, making it exciting for people to work so far away from the capital and other cities.”
 


Red Sea to be ‘leading global marine sports destination,’ say industry experts 

Updated 01 December 2022

Red Sea to be ‘leading global marine sports destination,’ say industry experts 

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coastline is destined to become a major global marine sports destination, according to a panel of leading industry professionals.

The sports committee of the American Chamber of Commerce Saudi Arabia (AmCham Saudi Arabia) joined private and public sector leaders on Wednesday at Al-Marsa Yacht Club, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, to share knowledge and best practices as part of the Kingdom’s rapidly growing sports and recreation sector. 

The main aim was to link local and international industry experts with key stakeholders, as well as promote investment and partnership opportunities in the sports sector.  

Maxwell Andrews, operations lead at KAUST, moderated an interactive session on “Marine Sports and Tourism” that included panelists Hassan Alkabbani, chairman of the Saudi Sailing Federation; Rosanna Chopra, executive director of Red Sea Global; Hussain Assaggaf, vice president of strategy and business intelligence at the Red Sea Authority; and Oliver Rees, general manager of the Jeddah Yacht Club. 

Topics discussed included sustainable development and management models to build the best services for yachting, boat owners and those involved in water sports.

The session also discussed strategies to protect the Red Sea coast, promote eco-tourism, and to address regulations encouraging the marine and water sports industry. 

Chopra highlighted Red Sea Global’s achievements and major projects, while also focusing on private yacht tourism. 

The sports committee of the American Chamber of Commerce Saudi Arabia (AmCham Saudi Arabia) and industry professionals at Al Marsa Yacht Club, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. (Supplied)

During the panel discussion, she announced Red Sea Global’s involvement with the Ocean Race and Warner Bros. Discovery to help promote the round-the-world challenge and to drive awareness of the importance of “ocean health” to an international audience.

“Through such platforms, we aim to collaborate more, be transparent and learn from each other to reach our objectives further and faster,” Chopra said. 

Panelists also shared their views on the initiatives to create jobs and opportunities in the marine sports industry. 

Mohammad Tafesh, vice president of the chamber’s Jeddah chapter, said: “Today’s program represented one of the best opportunities I’ve seen short of a major exhibition that brings together key stakeholders in one of the most important pillars of the Saudi Vision 2030 ‘Enhanced Quality of Life.’” 

Saudi Arabia is aiming to increase its appeal to “sport tourists” who will either visit the country for a major sporting event or to take part in recreational sports.

In line with the National Tourism Strategy, the Kingdom has ambitious goals to ensure that the sector contributes 10 percent of the country’s gross domestic product by 2030, with 1 million jobs created along the way, and sports contributing to at least 1 percent of the economy.

They gathered for a discussion on how the Red Sea along the Saudi coast could become a prime global Marine destination. (Supplied)

“Through this event, we were able to find out how and where the private and public sectors can get involved and contribute to the Saudi sports industry,” Tafesh added.

Rola Osta, director of the chamber’s Jeddah chapter, said: “Our key speakers shared valuable insight on what the future will look like for the Red Sea in Saudi Arabia. From high engagement in water sports to opportunities for tourists and locals to enjoy the sea in various ways, the projects in the works will allow everyone to take part.”

She said that the plans will enhance business opportunities between Saudi Arabia and the US, increasing employment opportunities for all.

“This was evident this evening during Red Sea Global’s announcement about joining forces in new innovative partnerships with the Ocean Race and Warner Bros.” she said. 

Osta described the AmCham Saudi Arabia platform as “a great place for business leaders to meet, explore partnership opportunities and expand their knowledge in various sectors.”
 


UNESCO adds Saudi Khawlani coffee, Camel Heda’a oral tradition to intangible cultural heritage list

Updated 01 December 2022

UNESCO adds Saudi Khawlani coffee, Camel Heda’a oral tradition to intangible cultural heritage list

  • 11 of Kingdom’s historical practices, items recognized
  • Arabic music, art, dance registered with world body

RIYADH: UNESCO on Wednesday added Saudi Khawlani coffee, and the skills and knowledge associated with its cultivation, and Camel Heda’a to this year’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

The decision was taken in Morocco during the annual meeting of the UN’s Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage.

The Kingdom, in cooperation with Oman and the UAE, led the joint application to register Camel Heda’a, which is an oral tradition where herders communicate with their animals. The communication includes guiding camels to safety during sandstorms, instructing them to open their mouths to feed and having them drop onto their knees to be mounted.

The registration of Saudi Khawlani coffee involved the efforts of several bodies including the Heritage Commission, Ministry of Culture, the National Committee for Education, Science and Culture, the Permanent Saudi Delegation to UNESCO, the Culinary Authority, and the Saudi Society for the Preservation of Heritage.

Khawlani coffee is one of the most luxurious and famous types in the world and has been cultivated in the south of the Kingdom for more than eight centuries. It is associated with the customs, poetry and songs of the people of the region.

With these new additions, Saudi Arabia has now registered 11 cultural elements with UNESCO including the Majlis, Arabic coffee, the Najdi Ardah dance, the flute, falconry, the Asiri cat, the palm tree, the Sadu weaving craft and Arabic calligraphy.

This registration forms part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 that aims to document the nation’s rich heritage for future generations locally and abroad.


Diriyah’s At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace set to bring to life the birthplace of the modern Saudi state

Updated 30 November 2022

Diriyah’s At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace set to bring to life the birthplace of the modern Saudi state

  • Opening season of the two developments will include a vibrant public program of events, performances, and activities for all visitors
  • Visitors to UNESCO World Heritage site At-Turaif will get a chance to savor Bujairi Terrace’s eagerly awaited culinary district

RIYADH: The first phase of an aspirational project conceived five years ago, with the aim of showcasing the history of the birthplace of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has come to fruition according to plan.

Diriyah Gate Development Authority’s At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace developments were officially unveiled on Monday at a gala event during the World Travel and Tourism Council’s Global Summit.

Delegates from around the globe, Saudi public figures and DGDA staff joined together to witness a momentous development as Diriyah opened its doors to the international community.

Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al-Khateeb inaugurates the historic At- Turaif and Bujairi neighborhoods with a dramatic ceremony witnessed by guests from around the world. (DGDA)

“Tonight is a very historic night,” Jerry Inzerillo, the CEO of DGDA, told Arab News. “We are celebrating two big milestones.

“For the first time in the history of the Gulf, the Kingdom is welcoming the World Travel and Tourism Council, all the ministers of tourism, CEOs of hotel companies, CEOs of airline companies — it’s 5,000 people coming to the Kingdom to see what’s going to be one of the great tourism countries in the world.”

Inzerillo described what it means to him, personally, to see the fruit of the labor of his team in Diriyah on display before the eyes of the world.

“It makes my heart pound because the thing that I am most proud about is that we are 1,600 staff now: 85 percent Saudi, 36 percent Saudi superstar women, 16 percent of which are in management, and 14 percent of our staff is from Diriyah. My heart and soul are my team and that’s the thing that I am most proud about,” Inzerillo said.

Prudence Solomon Inzerillo, Inzerillo’s wife, said: “I think the changes are profound and I think the whole devotion and commitment to celebrating culture, heritage, history art … I think it’s such an incredible gift, it’s really important.

“I think that everyone should appreciate the history and the culture that you have. It’s so rich and diverse and I think that it is a real privilege and a pleasure to be here to witness the changes that have happened over the last four-plus years that we’ve been here and it’s extraordinary.”

The festivities began at the birthplace of the Kingdom, and the first ruling base of the Al-Saud family, the UNESCO World Heritage site of At-Turaif. In front of Salwa Palace, a 10,000 square meter complex the original parts of which were built by Mohammed ibn Saud, the first ruler of the First Saudi State, tour guides stood waiting to show visitors around the site, moving along walkways once trodden by early Saudi rulers.

“Tonight is a very historic night,” Jerry Inzerillo, the CEO of DGDA, told Arab News. (DGDA)

Every handmade mud brick in the ancient buildings of At-Turaif has a story to tell, every wall holds the secrets of power struggles, and every corner conceals a tale of hospitality and unity.

The visitors from around the world saw not only the modernity and luxury of the present-day Kingdom but were able to take a step back in time as they watched live performances of traditional ardah dance and walked narrow pathways that paint an atmospheric picture of the Kingdom’s past.

The guests at this private event that marked the official opening of Bujairi and At-Turaif represented a diverse assemblage of visitors from numerous countries

Guadalupe Galvan Hernandez, for example, was visiting from Mexico City to attend the World Travel and Tourism Council summit.

“This is my first time in Saudi Arabia,” she told Arab News. “I have seen many things. Diriyah is amazing; it is all history. When we arrived we saw so many structures and it’s a blend of modernity and traditions.

FASTFACTS

• At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace will open their doors to the public on Dec. 4. 

• The Global Summit of the World Travel and Tourism Council is taking place for the first time in Saudi Arabia.

• At-Turaif will offer 75-minute guided walking tours in both Arabic and English that will take visitors through the original seal of power of the Al-Saudi family.

“The people are very kind, they are very nice people. Sometimes when you come from a country like Mexico it’s hard to understand some things and it makes you fear, somehow, the way you will be treated and they (the Saudis) were really, really kind and nice people.”

Following the tours of At-Turaif and the performances there, the guests made their way to the gates of Bujairi Terrace, where Inzerillo and Saudi Minister of Tourism Ahmed Al-Khateeb gave inaugural speeches. Inzerillo began by praising the Saudi leadership.

“I want to praise and give thanks to our dynamic prime minister, our Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been instrumental in every single detail of the Vision 2030 master plan for Diriyah,” he said.

“And thanks to his support we are one of the giga projects that tonight — on this historic night, in the birthplace of the Kingdom, the birthplace of the Arabian Peninsula, the ancestral house of Al-Saud — we open assets of 2030 in 2022.”

Diriyah Gate Development Authority’s At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace developments were officially unveiled on Monday. (DGDA)

Al-Khateeb said: “Today we are celebrating the opening of phase one, (which is) just 1 to 2 percent of the total project, and we thank you for being with us today.

“This is a testimony and proof that Saudi Arabia started its planning and now we are in the execution phase and you will see an opening in all of the giga projects every year. Diriyah is a good example, with the opening of Bujairi Terrace.”

Many DGDA employees could not hide their emotions as the doors of Buajiri Terrace opened to welcome the world.

Among the guests at the inauguration was Helena Zakade Inzerillo, the teenage daughter of the DGDA CEO. In 2019, at the age of 12, she spoke to Arab News during King Salman’s inauguration of the Diriyah Gate project and told how proud she was of her father and his mission to transform the city “with his heart and soul.”

Three years later, she was delighted to be at Bujairi Terrace to see her father’s passion and ambitions come to life.

“When I first came four years ago and saw Diriyah I was absolutely in shock,” she said. “I mean, this is an absolutely beautiful place that nobody really knew about outside of the Kingdom.

“I really believe that people should be seeing this place, people should know about this place and the significance of it.

“To see it come to this, to see the success, to see so many people come from around the world, and to see people’s perspectives completely change upon arriving in Saudi Arabia, and seeing the hospitality of the people here and seeing the significance of our country here, it means so much to me.”

Diriyah has long been renowned for its hospitality and generosity, its strength and its power — now it opens its gates to the world. (DGDA)

Helena said she truly believes in her father’s mission to spread to the world the message and meaning of Diriyah and its importance to the Kingdom.

“This means so much to me, to my family as a whole,” she added. “We have seen the process over the past four years, the amount of hard work, the tireless hours of my dad’s work for the past four years here in Saudi.

“And we have seen the transformation of Riyadh, of Diriyah, and the passion of the place that my dad has spread and how much he loves this place.”

The scent of bukhour filled the air and the sounds of ardha music echoed through Wadi Hanifah as history and modernity merged in the form of the many luxury dining experiences. Following a gala dinner in Bujairi Terrace, a light show illuminated the pathways and walls of At-Turaif.

The laser and firework display lit up the Najdi architecture of Salwa Palace, and the sky above it, with the words “The city of the earth,” “Only one Diriyah,” and simply “Diriyah.”

“As a 2030 giga project, we are already opening assets in 2022,” Inzerillo said. “So Turaif, all redone; Bujairi district, 20 new restaurants and after tonight we will take a few days and open to the public in a few days; 2 km of the Wadi Hanifah; new sales centers; welcome centers; community centers. So 2030 is now 2022.”

Visitors to the World Travel and Tourism Council Global Summit enjoy a taste of traditional Saudi hospitality in the Kingdom’s birthplace. (DGDA)

At-Turaif and Bujairi Terrace will officially open to the public on Dec. 4, and Inzerello outlined what is next in store.

“After tonight we are going to open up a lot of assets,” he said. “We have the first hotels under construction that will open next year, the first museums that will open next year, we have already planted 6 million trees on our way to 50 million trees, plants and bushes.

“Every year now we will open assets, we will ground-break assets and we will announce assets every year until 2030.”

Diriyah has long been renowned for its hospitality and generosity, its strength and its power — now it opens its gates to the world to give visitors a taste of the past and a glimpse of the future.

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