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Indian and Pakistani porters brush by, maneuvering clutches of date-filled carts to the loading docks in the back while a few ne’er-do-wells (a rough translation for a colloquial term, Trains of metal carts stretch far into the distance, held in perfectly straight lines by slender grooves cast into the concrete.Each night, dates are loaded up on the 15 trains from highest quality to lowest, ready to be rapid-fire auctioned off, detached from the train, and taken to waiting cars or trucks or even motorbikes.
Things get moving early, before the desert sun turns the concrete surface into a hot plate.
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.
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.
Vast reserves of oil and natural gas have fueled decades of economic development schemes, filled a bloated government bureaucracy with (mostly male) Saudi citizens, brought in millions of foreign workers, and propelled the country into the ranks of the G-20 economies.
In a country where a government-approved religious edict once equated historic preservation with worshipping idols, I ran into quite a few efforts to restore historic buildings and revive traditional crafts from the pre-oil era, all of which highlighted a unique Unaizah identity rather than the Saudi nation writ large.