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Transforming Al-Ula: Centerpiece of Saudi Modernization



  Feb 01, 2024

Transforming Al-Ula: Centerpiece of Saudi Modernization



Context:

Al-Ula, an oasis city in Saudi Arabia’s Madina province, is becoming the focal point of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s (MBS) vision to transform Saudi Arabia. Historically an important market on the incense route, Al-Ula is now central to MBS’s plans to reduce the country’s dependence on oil and pilgrimage, moving towards modernity.

Cultural Shift:

Traditionally conservative attitudes are being challenged in Al-Ula and across Saudi Arabia. MBS’s Vision 2030 aims to break away from strict traditionalism and open the country to modern influences. This vision includes empowering women, as seen through the experiences of female tour guides who face and overcome gender-based resistance in their profession.

Economic and Social Changes:

The shift in Al-Ula and Saudi Arabia is not just cultural but also economic. The country is increasingly welcoming tourists, moving away from a strictly religious national identity. This is evident in relaxed visa norms, the hosting of international sports and entertainment events, and even the opening of liquor stores, which indicate a significant social transformation.

Focus on Youth and Education:

Saudi youth, including young women, are at the forefront of this change. They are being encouraged to study and train abroad, preparing for a future that aligns more with global standards of development and individual liberty. This modernization drive is reflected in the education sector, where girls are excelling academically.

Archaeological and Cultural Richness:

Al-Ula’s rich archaeological heritage, including Aramaic inscriptions, offers a glimpse into diverse historical narratives. The city, once considered “cursed” in Islamic tradition, is being cautiously transformed into a cultural hub, reminiscent of cities like Istanbul where civilizations converge.

Foreign Policy Implications:

Saudi Arabia’s moderate approach to foreign policy under MBS’s leadership has helped the country maintain stability in a region marked by conflict. While neighboring countries struggle with war-torn historical sites, Saudi Arabia is set to showcase its well-preserved antiquities.

Environmental Initiatives:

Reflecting a broader trend, there is a growing emphasis on environmental concerns among the Saudi youth. MBS’s “green” initiatives are gaining traction, indicating a shift away from oil dependence and towards sustainable development.

Conclusion:

The transformation of Al-Ula symbolizes a broader shift in Saudi Arabia under MBS’s leadership. The country is balancing modernization with tradition, economic diversification with cultural preservation, and national identity with global integration.

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