The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia In Pictures, by the Saudi Arabia Ministry Of Culture And Information
It is not always clear what audience a book is aimed at, and this is the case here. This particular book is mostly made up of pictures with captions, and an introductory text that is in both English and Arabic. After a preface that sets the context of the book in a celebration of the forward thinking royal family of Saudi Arabia (more on that later), the rest of this modest book of a bit less than 150 pages contains photos taken in the period after 2005 (it is hard to get a handle on when exactly this book was made) of various aspects of development in Saudi Arabia. The first chapter looks at the two Holy Mosques, in Mecca and Medina, and the efforts that have been spent to modernize the experience for those on the hajj. This is followed by another chapter that focuses on the pilgrimage and on the efforts of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in making it a comfortable experience for travelers. After this, the book changes its focus to one on development, with a chapter on educational development that is full of the various universities and institutions established to help the knowledge base of the Saudi people. This is followed by a chapter on economic development that examines the way that Saudi Arabia has sought to expand its trade and commercial reach beyond oil alone. This is followed by a chapter on health development that focuses on the interests of the monarchy in improving the health of its people throughout the country. A chapter on agricultural development shows how the country is seeking to provide for self-sufficiency in food through developing irrigation farming in various parts of the country. A chapter on social development follows that mainly focuses on the efforts that the kingdom has made for helping the handicapped as well as wildlife. A chapter on architectural development focuses on historical preservation of historical sites as well as new construction. A chapter on transportation development focuses on the efforts of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to work on the logistical capabilities of the country. The book closes with chapters on monuments and tourism that bring the book full circle, in a way, to its concerns at the beginning.
Who is this book aimed at? Given the wide variety of materials present in the book, it is difficult to say. It does appear, in general, that the book is not aimed at internal audiences within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but rather external audiences. The fact that the two mosques are given such prominence in the book and the sort of tourism that Westerners are most interested in (people like myself, it must be admitted) is only included at the back of the book, this book is not aimed at Western audiences primarily, at least not Western audiences who are ordinary people. If the book seems primarily aimed at Muslims who are interested in seeing how King Abdullah was going to be custodian of the most holy sites of Islam–and one of the tourist pictures contains a nod to Caliph Omar’s invasion of the Holy Land, which is more of interest to Muslims than Western tourists, to be sure–secondarily it seems to be aimed at investors who might think of Saudi Arabia as a caring and progressive sort of state that uses its oil wealth to develop its industrial, transportation, and agricultural capabilities. To what extent this book would be appreciated by those target audiences is unclear to me, but as a statement of official government policy, it strikes me that long before the hype of Neom that Saudi Arabia was looking to build for the future, and that contemporary efforts are merely a continuation of long-held plans for growth and progress.
Even if I am by no means the intended audience of this book, I found the materials to be very interesting. In general, the book’s captions are written in a form of basic English that contains a very limited set of words that were used to discuss the development of Saudi Arabia, in a way that is highly reminiscent of the jargon that is used by economics speaking about developing countries. Even with this noted tendency, however, the book contains some quirks that I found interesting as a reader. For one, the preface of the book seems to indicate that Saudi Arabia’s monarchy considers itself to be founded on a doctrinally accurate view of Islam, likely indicating its long-term alliance with various imams. On the other hand, though, the book spends far more time talking about development and attempts at economic and technological and social progress, though more effort is spent talking about efforts to help the handicapped than to appeal to feminist interests, it must be admitted. Among the other quirks I noticed in the book is the way that the author talks about ruins as remnants or vestiges, or once even, alarmingly, vestigial. The captions also talk forthrightly about peasants, perhaps not recognizing that farmers are often not keen on being called peasants–and I say this coming from a farming background myself. There is even one bold caption that discusses genetically engineered pumpkins, something that most nations would not want to admit engaging in given the health concerns that result from such experimentation with genes. As is often the case, a book can provide information one did not remotely expected to find, and prompt more questions than it gives answers.