Journey: Forever AlUla |  National Geographic

Journey: Forever AlUla | National Geographic


In the distance, a mountain of red sand in front of the fading sun, covered with the warm breath of the desert. We are in the oasis bordering the old city with Yasmin Kanhoush, a Syrian archaeologist who came to direct the study of this ancient city built of mud bricks, which was probably founded in the 12th.e or XIIIe century AD, and was occupied until the end of the XXe century. Today, its vanilla-colored walls are slowly crumbling under the weight of years. But the kingdom has other plans for them. Goodbye, dust and oblivion. Soon, luxury hotels will appear on the ground. “Our knowledge is also used to indicate what needs to be protected when developing this area. For example, the tramway has been modified to be able to put a surrounding wall”, emphasizes the scientist. At that time, the changes in the place were made with some attention to sustainable development – even in the land oil tankers and Land Rovers. A 46-kilometer light rail line should eventually connect AlUla International Airport with the Old City and Hegra. In addition, the Sharaan reserve contributes to the preservation of ecosystems. On a 1,500-kilometer fenced area2, is home mainly to Nubian ibexes and mountain gazelles. Arabian tigers (in critical danger of extinction) should be returned there.

In 4 x 4 with our guide Rami, the clock shows 6:48 pm The alarm on his phone then breaks the storm of the passenger compartment. In this month of Ramadan, it announces the end of fasting. First drink water after more than twelve hours without eating or drinking anything… “Oh! My God!Rami smiled. That’s life,” he enters into a mixture of contentment and calm. In the Wahhabi kingdom, Ramadan is not discussed. The Koran and the sunna – the holy texts related to all the actions and words of the Prophet – act as a constitution. Also, only Muslims can obtain citizenship, and Converting to another religion can be punished by death.

As night falls and the fast breaks, the streets of AlUla come alive. Black silhouettes walk. Almost all the women we met wear niqabs and abayas – those Islamic dresses that only reveal the eyes. Here, these covers cover the bubbling young man. Young women go out with friends, drink iced coffee or watch a movie together on a small smartphone screen. As the crickets chirp in the heat of the evening, we meet Amal, 24, who has been working as a tour guide in the AlUla area for a few months.

Like thousands of other Saudis of his generation, he received a scholarship to study abroad, completing his training in tourism disciplines in France and the United States. “In the beginning, it was a challenge to do this work, especially as a woman. But I like to meet new people. I want people to know us. Tourism allows us to open the country and mind, to tell our story,” says Amal, who also notes the gap that separates her from previous generations. “There At first, it was difficult for my father and grandfather to accept that I was working. Moreover, some people completely deny that the country is changing. »

The architect of this change, Mohammed bin Salman, is dealing with this fractured society, where those under the age of 30 represent almost two-thirds of the population. Amal does not hide her admiration. “He’s my hero!” He did things that were unthinkable before,” he exclaims before pulling out his cell phone. In the background, where one would expect to discover a portrait of a lover, it is the calm face of the crown prince that is shown. Like a good modern self-governing expert, “MBS” moves forward in apparent confusion. On the other hand, he lifts the ban on movie theaters that has been enforced for almost forty years, gives women the right to drive, have a passport and live alone. On the face of it, it punishes all dissenters, as evidenced by the arrests and imprisonment of women’s rights activists.