British team to retrace steps of epic Philby trek across Saudi Arabia
Explorer’s 1,300 km journey a century ago led to lifelong friendship with Ibn Saud, Kingdom’s first ruler
The expedition was launched by the UK’s Princess Anne, and the team includes Philby’s granddaughter
Updated 30 September 2022
LONDON: An Arabian desert expedition aims to retrace the steps of a famous journey by a British explorer who served as an adviser to the first ruler of Saudi Arabia.
The planned 1,300-km Heart of Arabia coast-to-coast trek across the peninsula was launched by Anne, Princess Royal of the UK, on Wednesday. It was her first public engagement since the death this month of her mother, Queen Elizabeth II.
The expedition will honor the undertaking and achievement of adventurer, Arabist and intelligence officer Harry St. John Philby, who traveled from the Gulf coast village of Al-Uqair to Jeddah, on the Red Sea coast, on a mission in support of Ibn Saud, the Kingdom’s first ruler.
The Heart of Arabia journey will set off in November, a century after Philby’s crossing. It is led by veteran British explorer Mark Evans and the team, which will travel by foot and on camels, includes Philby’s Saudi granddaughter, Reem.
After reaching Riyadh they will travel west on the final stage to Jeddah, which is likely to present the greatest challenge because of harsh winds and rough terrain, including sand and loose rock.
Philby was sent to Arabia during the First World War to assist T. E. Lawrence as part of the British efforts to foment an Arab uprising against the Ottoman Empire, which at the time stretched across the Red Sea side of the Arabian Peninsula all the way to Yemen.
His journey led to groundbreaking cartographic and natural discoveries, and resulted in significant changes to the political landscape of the Middle East.
Philby, who would later reside in Riyadh, developed a close relationship with Ibn Saud, who at the time was a significant tribal leader. Philby adopted local dress and customs, and converted to Islam, which helped him play a key role in the events that led to the Arab Revolt and the creation of Saudi Arabia.
Evans said of Philby: “He is considered by many as one of the greatest early explorers of Arabia. He not only set out across uncharted land but took time to record everything he saw.”
Reem Philby said that she is drawn to “the stillness and constant movement of the desert at the same time.”
She added: “Just observing how nature controls everything in harmony and how we are the ones that have to adapt, makes one very humble.”
Princess Anne said: “How did people live in the environment that he crossed? What was different about it? And actually, what’s perhaps even more important in modern terms, is to understand how much has changed compared to what existed before.”
The Arabian landscape has long attracted interested intrepid Britons, including explorer and writer Wilfred Thesiger, who commended the tribes he encountered during his crossing of the Kingdom’s Empty Quarter for their loyalty and generosity.
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
Updated 30 November 2022
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.
“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.
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.
• 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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
World’s first commercial shipment of blue ammonia leaves Saudi Arabia
The development was first announced during the recent Saudi Green Initiative conference in Sharm El-Sheikh
The accomplishment is part of collaboration between Saudi Basic Industries Corporation Agri-Nutrients, Aramco
Updated 29 November 2022
A consignment of blue ammonia has left Saudi Arabia for South Korea, representing a new milestone in the development of decarbonization solutions.
The development was first announced during the recent Saudi Green Initiative conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, and Vessel Seasurfer, carrying 25 kilometer-tons of low-carbon blue ammonia, is expected to reach its destination between Dec. 9 and 13 in the world’s first commercial shipment of its kind.
The accomplishment, which is an alternative to conventional gray ammonia, is part of a collaboration between Saudi Basic Industries Corporation Agri-Nutrients and Aramco.
Lotte Fine Chemical, which has a long-standing relationship with SABIC AN, will receive the low-carbon “cradle to gate” blue ammonia.
Abdulrahman Shamsaddin, SABIC AN CEO, said: “This shipment is another milestone in our journey toward carbon neutrality.
“We are proud to be a part of this pioneering solution, paving the way for further decarbonization efforts.
“Looking to the future, we are constantly working on breakthrough solutions to decarbonize our assets and deliver low-carbon solutions to our customers.”
Yong Suk Kim, LFC CEO, said: “We are delighted to enter this meaningful agreement with our long-term supplier, SABIC Agri-Nutrients, to receive the world’s first certified blue ammonia cargo.
“Building on our shared history, we are looking forward to moving forward together into a new era for ammonia. We believe that this shipment of blue ammonia will help lay the foundations for a global supply chain."
Earlier this year, SABIC AN and Aramco received the world’s first independent certifications, recognizing blue ammonia and blue hydrogen production, from TUV Rheinland, a leading independent testing, inspection and certification agency, based in Germany.
The shipment of blue ammonia to South Korea will be the first to capitalize on this major certification achievement.
The new developments are aligned with Saudi Vision 2030, which focuses on low-carbon fuels, products, solutions and clean energy.
Saudi Arabia’s largest e-sports festival kick starts in Riyadh
The RUSH festival allows video-game aficionados to experience latest technology
Over five days, gamers will be provided best-known games, real-life experiences
Updated 28 November 2022
RIYADH: The RUSH festival, the largest event for virtual sports and games, opened at the Riyadh Front on Saturday as part of the Riyadh Season of activities.
Over five days, it will provide gamers with the best-known games and real-life experiences.
They will get the chance to play real games such as “Fortnite,” “FIFA,” and “Valorant.” The event will also bring together the best international teams so that the biggest tournaments and direct qualifiers can be held on the e-sports stage.
Representatives of the 25 E-Sport organization greeted fans at the event’s meet-and-greet booth.
Aoun, the organization’s director of operations, told Arab News: “We have content makers and professional players in all games, and we came to meet the audience here.”
The festival aims to provide fun video games, competitions, and challenges through direct tournaments with prizes, and includes live entertainment shows, DJ performances, an augmented reality experience, and a cosplay competition.
The Valar Club booth was promoting e-sports for women.
Malak Al-Qahtani, founder of Valar Club, told Arab News: “Valar Club is the first licensed women’s club from the federation’s electronic sports, and our goal is to help female Saudi players, as they aspire to the world, and help with their training.”
Saudi YouTuber Pika Loli travelled from Jeddah to attend the event.
“This event brings together most of the YouTubers and gamers, and it is a good opportunity to get to know each other, and it will increase our followers and grow the channel on YouTube.”
Some of the cosplayers were dressed as video game characters.
Abdulelah Al-Qahtani said: “Today we are dressed as characters from the ‘Genshin Impact’ game, and I think this is so good that Saudi Arabia brought up a hidden community, like cosplayers and gamers.”
With a focus on the whole of the gaming industry, from console and PC gaming to mobile and e-sports, the RUSH festival aims to give gaming aficionados the opportunity to access and experience the latest tech and the chance to interact with each other in real life, and online.
Tickets for the event are available via https://riyadhseason.sa/event-details-en.html?id=599/en_RUSH.
BANGKOK: Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to Bangkok last week has opened not only a new chapter in Saudi-Thai ties but also new horizons in which officials and the people see a promising future for both kingdoms.
Relations between Saudi Arabia and Thailand were officially restored in January this year, during Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha’s trip to Riyadh, when the two countries agreed to appoint ambassadors for the first time in over three decades.
The crown prince arrived in Bangkok as a guest of honor at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit hosted by Thailand on Nov. 18-19 and became the first Saudi official to make such a trip.
“It was the first visit at the level of the Kingdom’s leadership since the establishment of relations between the two countries in 1957,” Abdurrahman bin Abdulaziz Al-Suhaibani, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Thailand, told Arab News.
“It will move the relations of the two countries to broader horizons and a prosperous and promising future.
“It will also contribute to accelerating steps that will enhance bilateral, economic and trade relations between the two countries by exploring potential investment opportunities in light of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 and the development priorities of Thailand.”
The crown prince’s meetings with the Thai leadership have yielded numerous memorandums on energy, investment, tourism, anticorruption efforts and the normalization of diplomatic relations.
When the crown prince arrived in Bangkok, he was officially received by the country’s top leadership and royal family and unofficially by many others, especially from the younger generation, who took to social media to welcome him and set up online fan clubs.
In welcome messages, many Thais wrote it was an “honor” for them to see the Saudi crown prince in their country.
Photos and videos from the visit went viral and made the rounds with captions such as “Warm welcome, Prince,” “This is what people in the country (Thailand) want,” “Happy: Thai-Saudi relations are very close after 32 years,” “Long live MBS.”
“The relations now seem to be on the right track and will grow stronger and more comprehensive in the coming period,” Al-Suhaibani told Arab News.
“The Saudi embassy will focus on implementing and following up on the agreements and memoranda of understanding that were signed during this historic visit.”
Tanee Sangrat, director-general of information at the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs and soon-to-be Thailand’s ambassador to the US, told Arab News that the visit was “closely watched and followed by the Thai people in Thailand and around the world.”
He said: “We look to Saudi Arabia as a country that has great potential. The crown prince and prime minister is very widely well respected by our people.
“I think Thai people are looking and are expecting more cooperation with Saudi Arabia.”
With the restoration of ties with Saudi Arabia, Thailand has found not only a new powerful partner in navigating volatile energy markets and energy transition, but also, as many have said, a “gateway” to the Middle East, where Thailand’s presence is not very strong.
The restored relationship would give not only Thai exporters but also investors more access to opportunities in the Gulf and beyond.
“This is a big, big issue for Thailand. Saudi Arabia is a critical partner in the Middle East,” Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Bangkok-based Institute of Security and International Studies, told Arab News.
“That is a gateway for Thailand to re-engage and re-enter Middle East markets. Without the Saudi Arabia relationship, a lot of doors were closed. Now, more doors will be opened.”
Suppalerk Aramkitphotha, a business development professional, saw the crown prince’s visit as a “great opportunity.”
“We are very glad that we have this opportunity,” he said, citing the business prospects between Thailand and the Middle East that would now be facilitated.
Jirayut Srupsrisopa, the founder of the first Thai fintech startup to notch up a valuation of more than $1 billion, said he was glad that the Saudi crown prince visited Thailand and new bridges were built.
“Now we can do so much more between Thailand and Saudi Arabia. We can work with Saudis for the future of energy, the future of green hydrogen or future growth in other aspects like the digital economy,” he told Arab News, adding that there would also be opportunities such as medical tourism.
Thailand, where healthcare services are well developed, already has agreements with countries such as Kuwait and Qatar for receiving patients. A deal with Saudi Arabia is likely to be a part of the two countries’ relations going forward.
“We are famous for medical tourism,” Jirayut said. “Everyone can come here, have a nice holiday, nice beach, nice mountains, nice hotels, nice services. And they can get their teeth done. They can recover. They can have a health checkup here at a fraction of the cost elsewhere.”
But there is much more to the renewed ties than business opportunities.
Referring to the potential role that culture can play in cementing the re-established Saudi-Thai relationship, Ambassador Al-Suhaibani said: “There are many similarities between the two countries, particularly in hospitality, generosity, friendliness and, most importantly the richness of culture.
“This will encourage us to strengthen relationships and communication between our people, as well as to promote constructive dialogue in many aspects of social, cultural and religious (life).”
This kind of exchange is what Thais have waited for a long time.
Voralak Tulaphorn, a marketing professional, said a Saudi presence is something that was missing from the multicultural landscape of Thailand for a long time.
“Saudi Arabia and (Thailand) actually have rich cultures, and with rich cultures it would be nice to have exchanges in everything from food and nature to fashion and handicrafts.”
For her, what holds the greatest promise as a means of bringing Thais and Saudis together is an appreciation of each other’s cuisines. Food is a good way to win hearts and spread cultural influence.
“I think people love Thai street food,” Voralak told Arab News, adding that she hoped that soon Saudi restaurants would start emerging in Bangkok. “We would love to taste Saudi Arabian food too.”
History, mystery and magic as first Ancient Kingdoms Festival wraps up in Saudi Arabia
The festival focused entirely on sites at crossroads of culture, centers of influence and wealth
By focusing on a range of events, the festival gave these ancient landscapes a new lease of life
Updated 27 November 2022
KHAYBAR: Past, present and future came together as the inaugural Ancient Kingdoms Festival drew to a close with a series of dramatic events showcasing three historic oases of the northwest — AlUla, Khaybar and Tayma — for a modern audience.
The festival, launched on Nov. 11, was the first of its kind to focus entirely on the sites, which were at the crossroads of culture in ancient times, and also centers of influence and wealth.
By focusing on a range of events, including cultural performances, workshops and sightseeing opportunities, the festival gave these ancient landscapes a new lease of life, with many of the activities expected to continue after the festival’s close.
A spectacular show lit up the night sky as 1,450 drones formed shapes while an orchestra played music by UK composer Matt Faddy. The show will continue until Dec. 15, 2023.
Visitors to Khaybar can still explore the mysterious prehistoric stone structures on foot, or by car or a 20-minute helicopter excursion, hovering over the old and new.
“We made this festival to reflect the stories behind all the ancient civilizations that lived around or in these three places,” Abdulrazzag Alanzi, a local storyteller and tour guide, told Arab News.
Alanzi used to visit his cousins in Khaybar as a child and still recalls hearing stories about the region going back centuries.
“I used to love reading a lot of fictional stories and also a lot of old stories, and when I heard about something that happened in this area many years ago, it always fascinated me. This is what pushed me into this line of work, tourism,” he said.
“AlUla, Khaybar and Tayma have a lot of historical stories and a lot of information that we need to show the world.”
Fahad Aljuhani, a storyteller who describes the area as the “greatest living museum,” also came to the area as a child to connect with his cousins — and to discover hidden treasures.
“I’m a ‘Rawi’ and ‘Rawi’ in English means a storyteller. Now we are on an island that floats on a sea of rock which is Khaybar. I used to come to Khaybar and visit my relatives, and they would tell us a story about the tombs and the oasis, and I didn’t have the chance to visit them until now,” he told Arab News.
Aljuhani said that 5 million years ago, hundreds of volcanic eruptions occurred simultaneously in the area.
“If you feel the rocks, they seem to generate heat from within, similar to those who choose to watch over the land today and tell its many-layered stories,” he said.
Tour guide Enass Al-Sherrif told Arab News that she is excited to see people, including those from around the Kingdom, taking the time to learn about their past.
Al-Sherrif describes her job as the best she could ever have.
“I am really proud and honored. And I want to show you and make you feel the experience, how we transformed this place into an amazing destination for others to come and visit us,” she said.
The festival and its extended program aims to shed light on the legends and legacies of ancient times in the Kingdom’s northwest region, allowing visitors to explore and learn about the “largest living museum in the world.”
It is two years since AlUla began reopening heritage sites to domestic and international tourists with its pioneering Winter at Tantora program, which lasts until March.
While the Ancient Kingdoms Festival wrapped up on a chilly day on Nov. 27, many of the visitor experiences will continue well beyond the festival period, with some available year-round.
“The northwest Arabian Peninsula is the jewel in the heritage crown of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and a source of fascination for a global community of archaeologists and researchers. Their discoveries shed new light on the societies that endowed the region with such relics of the ancients, preserved in wonders of prehistoric geology, art, and historical architecture that reveal important truths,” the Royal Commission for AlUla, which hosted the event, said in a statement.
The commission plans to host the Ancient Kingdoms Festival annually. Further details are available on its website.