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Along with Mecca (some 175 miles to the south), Medina is one of the two holiest sites in the Islamic world."Take a right and you'll be in the center of the city, which is not allowed.But the country, long insulated from the non-Muslim world, is slowly opening up.
This former congeries of bedouin desert tribes, united in 1932 by King Abdul Aziz, has grown into a powerful regional force by embracing Western petroleum engineering, cutting-edge military technology, superhighways, and high-tech medicine, as well as the English language--everything modern except secularism, which elsewhere seems the soul of modernity.
The school's modest building sits next door to the sumptuous Abha Palace Hotel, the jewel of Asir's infant tourist industry, and after a ribbon-cutting at the school, the prince entered a large and crowded hotel conference room.
Everyone stood as a cadre of policemen with submachine guns entered the room, followed by dignitaries in and six bearded men with daggers in their belts and Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders, who appeared to be a sort of palace guard.
And ladies, you must wear your abayas and your head scarves here." A groan issues from members of our tour.
The women, nearly three-quarters of the 42 of us, have grown fairly accustomed to wearing the black, ankle-length abaya, but a week into our tour of Saudi Arabia, head scarves are still a chore.