More than 200 miles away from the clamor of Saudi Arabia’s capital city, Riyadh, my friend Yunus and I hit the main road and race the rising sun toward the carts and bids and boxes and auctions of the Unaizah Date Festival, the second-largest date extravaganza in the entire world.
Most storylines about Saudi Arabia center around the kingdom’s deep social conservatism, vast oil wealth, or geopolitical machinations in the greater Middle East.
Things get moving early, before the desert sun turns the concrete surface into a hot plate.
“We’ll stop by at midnight, to check that all of the dates are fine,” explains Ali Muhammad al-Khuwaiter, a date merchant from Unaizah reselling a few surplus date boxes from the wholesale lots under the market’s titanic sunshades.
The fruit has long been a part of the land that now forms the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where for centuries Bedouin nomads were fueled by its calories as they traveled back and forth across the Arabian Peninsula.
A millennium and some centuries ago, the Prophet Muhammad exhorted Muslims in the month of Ramadan to “Break your fast with a date, for it is purifying.” Since the unification of the kingdom in 1932, however, Saudi Arabia has derived the overwhelming majority of its wealth from a very different set of natural resources.
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From your safety to shopping, living in Saudi Arabia can yield great benefits as well as occasional drawbacks.
“Here, I got them for 90 riyals each.” (Around .) Others had grander ambitions. “We laid down a plan at the start of the season to get 600,000 cartons of a single type of date.
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The skylarks sing as they swoop and swerve in the pre-dawn sky around date palm trees.
Plummeting oil prices over the past three years have sent the economy into a tailspin.
Economic headwinds have, in turn, spurred on a high-profile effort to reconfigure the Saudi economy around a more diversified export base and an innovative private sector; this project is known as Saudi Vision 2030.
As renowned as Saudi dates are worldwide, they’re unlikely to turn the economic tide in the kingdom.