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The Danish Tourist and the Tour of the Gulf's Future

The Danish Tourist and the Tour of the Gulf's Future

Monday, 13 December, 2021 - 07:15
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

In the lobby of a Riyadh hotel, a Danish tourist approached me to ask where I was from. I pretended that I came from a normal country, but later confessed. He asked me about my job and why I was in Riyadh. I told him I am a journalist and was following Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's tour of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

He apologized for being nosy and said: "I thought you were a tourist." He told me he was from Denmark and worked as a lawyer. I assumed that his firm had sent him to the region on a business trip. He caught on to my thinking and informed me that he was actually here as a tourist. "I came with a friend. My son could not accompany me because he did not meet the vaccination coronavirus requirements in Saudi Arabia."

He added: "I love tourism and I want to visit as many countries as possible." He spoke of his passion towards countries that boast a rich history in civilizations. He revealed that in the Middle East, he has visited Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. "I must be honest with you, I never imagined that Saudi Arabia would one day open its doors to tourists," he told me. "I watched a video about AlUla and other places and was intrigued."

"I thought you were tourist and thought I could ask you about your experience here," he added. "The history of countries is layer upon layer of civilization. The recognition of these layers enriches countries and their identities. Countries that open their doors to tourists, investments and competition are confident in their legitimacy and relationship with their people."

"I read that something of a cultural revolution was taking place in this country. Cinema, theater, singing and life without complications," he added. "I also heard about a philosophy conference. This is no easy feat. Philosophy asks major questions and is a test of ideas from a critical angle. I will visit tourist landmarks. Here I am adding a destination that had never figured in my expectations."

Meeting the Danish tourist during the Crown Prince's five-country tour was a coincidence that stayed with me. The new Saudi Arabia is no longer a dream or a project. It has turned into a reality that is felt by every visitor. The winds of the new Saudi Arabia have swept through the whole country. The dreams are greater than the Kingdom's massive area. They are dreams that concern every Arab and Muslim, who want to join the battle of the future, armed with hope, knowledge, technology and transparency. Arabs aren't guests or a burden in a world built by the others. Arabs are a natural partner in shaping the present and a partner willing to take part in shaping the future. The Gulf experience seems pioneering in this end.

The warm reception accorded to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his tour has significant reasons. He was welcomed in recognition of his position in a state that enjoys Gulf, Arab and international weight. During the reign of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz, the country took a series of choices that have opened its doors to the future. The visitor was welcomed by Gulf governments and people as the man who lit the spark of renaissance and change.

It was evident through the dialogues in Gulf capitals that the time of stagnation is over. Every country now has its own "vision" for their future, with set deadlines and various mechanisms. The dialogues made it clear that terrorism has been dealt a crushing or semi-crushing defeat. It is a defeat of terrorism and dark thoughts that tried to lure the Gulf youth and booby-trap them with hate and push them on a collision course with their society and the world. The platforms of extremism and hatred have been shut down. Gulf societies have broken the chain of dark thoughts and they can now breathe easily and confidently.

It was evident from the tour that the new Saudi dictionary, where dreams are aligned with numbers, is making a major contribution to the birth of a new Gulf dictionary. Relationships are no longer based on sentimental words about a shared history, but they are now also built on sensing a shared future and sailing in the same boat. Fear has left the picture and hope has taken its place.

It is no easy feat to visit Muscat, Abu Dhabi, Doha, Manama and Kuwait and witness hope at every stop. It is no east feat to witness how these countries are dedicating a space for the youth to build the future. In this part of the Arab world, you no longer see youths who long to immigrate or dream of arming themselves with a foreign passport to prepare themselves for unpleasant surprises. You certainly will not find youths who are ready to throw themselves in the "death boats" sailing towards European paradise.

A new method and new vocabulary. Coordination councils sponsor and consolidate shared interests. Transparent partnerships that seize opportunities for progress and modern regulations in governance and fighting corruption. Openness to development and swiftly benefiting from successive technological revolutions.

Basing Gulf ties on institutional relations will double the influence of GCC countries in the world of economic blocs. It will also increase their political weight in their surroundings and ability to defend their sovereignty, security and stability and improve their position in addressing regional and international powers. The discussions held during the tour revealed major shared views on supporting political solutions based on international resolutions and norms to crises in Yemen, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. The major rapprochement was clear over the nuclear negotiations with Iran and the regional countries' desire to address the destabilizing role Tehran insists on playing in the region.

The truth is the GCC holds significant cards that can be added to the influence Saudi Arabia wields and the pivotal role it plays. Each GCC member boasts economic weight and old and new political ties that can lead to future opportunities.

The year kicked off with the AlUla summit that built bridges of reconciliation. The year will be concluded in Riyadh on Tuesday with the GCC summit that is expected to elevate economic, political and military ties between the members. This was possible through the positive climate that was established by the Crown Prince's tour of the Gulf's future. Calls for following the example of the European Union are being made in Gulf capitals. The Gulf train is ready for a new beginning. The confidence of its passengers has grown. The train has a clear route to take. This is deep and comprehensive change that has exceeded the Danish tourist's expectations.

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