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It will take some time to convince foreigners to come.
But an attempt to bring the world into KSA is there. Changes are in the air.
The National Museum in Riyadh opened its doors. The building is magnificent, although exhibitions are, to put it mildly, very poor. The new National Library is stunning, although the selection of books is very limited. Research centers mainly highlight the activities of the Royal Family. A new mass rapid system is being constructed, but no one knows exactly when it will become operational.
I am interested in this complex country. I want to come back, and understand more; for years I am writing about Wahhabism and the deadly alliance with the UK, and then the US. And, honestly, I have always been fascinated with the deserts and with the people who inhabit them.
Considering my strong criticism of the KSA foreign policy, including my frequent appearances on the Iranian Press TV, I was a bit worried about this visit, but I was holding an "official", not "e" visa, and in the end, nothing bad happened. The people that I met were kind and open with me. Now, I am writing this short essay on board Sri Lankan Airlines, bound for Colombo, alive and well.
Diversification could prove to be extremely positive for the people of Saudi Arabia. Both Russia and China are now making important inroads, and soon, there will be substantial investment from both countries, in the Saudi oil industry, as well as tourism and other sectors. Chinese and Russian people are curious and daring. They will come. Many will. Saudis know it.
At the National Museum in Riyadh, a receptionist asked where I was from, in English. I answered, "I am Russian". He hesitated for just a few seconds, then smiled and uttered: "Privet! Kak dela?" ("Greetings, how are you doing?") Perhaps he had to learn those few words of greeting in all world languages. Or perhaps not. Maybe he was studying Russian.
The rulers of the KSA are very secretive people. No one really knows which direction the country is going to evolve in the next few years. Could the KSA one day become "neutral"? I don't know.
But one thing is certain: something is moving, brewing and evolving. KSA is not the same country as it was five years ago. In the future, perhaps five years from now, it may become unrecognizable.
[First published by NEO New Eastern Outlook a journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences]
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