Destination: Saudi Arabia

Interview with Henry Rollins: Punk Rock World Traveler

Jim Benning asks the musician about his new book of photographs and how travel has humbled him

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The Hajj, in Photos

The annual pilgrimage to Mecca kicked off this week. The Big Picture has an absolutely stunning photo essay from the event.

Maureen Dowd: ‘A Girl’s Guide to Saudi Arabia’

In the latest issue of Vanity Fair, the longtime New York Times columnist heads to Saudi Arabia to explore the country’s slowly growing tourism scene from a woman’s perspective. The story’s not online, but this VF Daily preview described it as “one part travel romp and one part history lesson—with a healthy dash of moxie thrown in.”

It’s already stirring up criticism—the comments on the preview are uniformly negative, questioning everything from the story’s tone to its accuracy regarding legal restrictions on women in Saudi Arabia. Dowd spoke to NPR about the experience earlier this week. A slideshow from the trip is also available online.

Photo You Must See: Preparing for the Hajj in Mecca

Photo You Must See: Preparing for the Hajj in Mecca REUTERS/Caren Firouz
REUTERS/Caren Firouz

Muslim pilgrims circle the Kaaba inside the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca after morning prayers, and before the start of this year’s hajj pilgrimage.


Slate Takes a Ramadan World Tour

Slate Takes a Ramadan World Tour Photo by tinou bao via Flickr (Creative Commons)
Photo by tinou bao via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Writer Jason Rezaian has spent time in five different Muslim-majority countries—Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Iran and Turkey—during the annual month of fasting, and in a short essay he reflects on the subtle (and not-so-subtle) differences in the ways each one celebrates their shared holy month.

Even Mecca Getting Hit by Recession

Bookings from pilgrims are “way down” in the Muslim holy city, according to Reuters. Local hoteliers also blame the swine flu panic alongside the global economic crisis.

Rajaa Alsanea Talks Dentistry, ‘Girls of Riyadh’ and Life in Chicago

Remember Rajaa Alsanea? Her debut novel stirred up acclaim and controversy, and opened a window into the romantic lives of Saudi Arabia’s young women (being dubbed “Sex and the City, Saudi-style” as a result) a couple years back. The National caught up with the author to see what she’s been up to since, and it turns out Alsanea is studying endodontics, a dentistry specialty, in Chicago—and working on a second novel in her spare time.

She says of that project: “People will definitely have the feeling that I have grown up and matured. I have lived outside my country and experienced a different culture and all of this reflects on the person that I am today.” The thoughtful interview is worth a read in full. (Via The Book Bench)

In Riyadh, Ronaldo Trumps Paulo Coehlo

Brazilian officials who were in Riyadh for a festival intended to honor their country’s literary heritage found themselves fielding more questions about the beautiful game than about books, the Arab News reports. In fact, the Brazilian delegation wound up caving to demand and redecorating with football banners and photos of famous players.

Said one visitor: “The book fair has almost come to an end and I haven’t received any questions about Brazilian literature, or even the country’s general culture.” Hmm. Maybe it’s time for a rebranding campaign? (Via The Book Bench)

Morning Links: Weird Hotels, Flight 1549: The Game and More

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How to Prevent a Monkey Attack

monkey REUTERS

Jason Daley explains how to avoid getting bitten, slapped or shoved by an ornery primate.

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Architects and Mecca: Redesigning Islam’s Holiest Site

A shortlist of 18 possible architects has been drawn up for the daunting task of redesigning the mosque complex at Mecca, the Independent reports. Brits Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid are reportedly among the finalists. The planned redevelopment would more than triple capacity at the site, from the current 900,000 to a mind-boggling 3 million, making it the world’s highest-occupancy building.

First Women-Only Hotel Opens in Saudi Arabia

In January, we wrote that Saudi Arabia had lifted restrictions on women staying alone in hotels; previously, women had been required to stay with, or to carry a letter of permission from, a male “guardian.” So what’s come of it? The change has opened the way for a new niche hotel: the Luthan Hotel & Spa, which the executive director boasts is “women-owned, women-managed, and women-run.” But as the Christian Science Monitor’s Caryle Murphy asks, is this a sign of progress or of deepening gender segregation?

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U.S. Woman Arrested in Saudi Arabia Starbucks

Her “crime,” according to the Times of London: sitting with a man who was not her husband. She was hauled away by a member of Saudi Arabia’s Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. The woman works for a company in Saudi Arabia and visited the Starbucks with male colleagues to use the Internet after their Riyadh office suffered an outage.

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Saudi Women Now Free to Stay Alone in Hotels

Facing criticism for its restrictions on women, the Saudi Arabian government said this week that individual Saudi women no longer need a male guardian to stay in a hotel or a furnished apartment within the Kingdom. However, hotels must send information about the traveler to local police, according to the AP.

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Saudi Billionaire Buys First Private Superjumbo A380

Oh, to travel like a Saudi prince. Or the wife of India’s richest man. I was driving home from Orlando’s airport a few days ago, having just booked a long haul flight in coach and already dreading the knees-in-my-teeth-feeling to come, when I heard an NPR segment about Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s purchase of his own personal A380 superjumbo jet (like the one pictured) to the tune of just over $300 million. According to an envy-inducing piece in the International Herald Tribune, the prince, worth an estimated $20 billion and the world’s 13th richest man, regularly travels with an entourage of around 50 people.

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