Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah inaugurated the 27th National Heritage and Culture Festival at Janadriyah on Wednesday.
The event, 45 km north of the capital, was attended by heads of state, foreign diplomats and thinkers and poets from across the world.
On arrival at the venue, King Abdullah was received by Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, commander of the National Guard and chairman of the supreme committee of the festival, and Abdulmohsen bin Abdulaziz Al-Tuwaijri, assistant deputy commander of the National Guard and deputy chairman of the festival's supreme committee.
This year King Abdullah ordered the cancellation of two major events, a musical opera and Ardha dance, as a gesture of Saudi Arabia’s solidarity with the people of Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and Tunisia.
According to a royal decree issued Wednesday, King Abdullah asked the Almighty Allah to bestow mercy on the martyrs and to preserve security and stability of Arab and Islamic countries.
The highlight of this year’s festival is the participation of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak as the guest of honor at the event. His country will showcase a number of exciting culture shows. It will highlight the similarities of two countries in their culture, traditions and values, such as show of respect to the elders and family.
The two-week event opened with a spectacular camel race. “This cultural fair is a realization of our nation’s identity and to feature our values and heritage with a mission to make it known to one and all,” said Prince Miteb at the event.
He added a large number of programs have been lined up and that over 1 million visitors are expected. “All preparations have been made to make the festival a grand success,” he said.
Al-Tuwaijri said the 27th festival would mix men’s activities with those of women as long as all are committed to traditions and laws.
As far as cultural and intellectual seminars are concerned, these events draw people’s interest and attention because of the valuable topics that they address. With time, these seminars have managed to instill values such as accepting others’ ideas, opinions and positive criticism. Al-Tuwaijri said the attendance of a great number of intellectuals and thinkers is terrific for exchanging ideas.
This year, the festival will honor a number of intellectuals and thinkers from both genders. They include Saudi poet Ibrahim Khafaji, a poet with a presence at Gulf and Arab levels. Al-Tuwaijri said 16 personalities from Saudi Arabia would be honored. There would be participation from different selected regions.
Al-Tuwaijri said handcrafts from Gulf Cooperation Council nations would be displayed. There will also be a children’s theater featuring six plays during the festival.
There will be a special wing for visual arts featuring 27 exhibitions. The festival has enriched the Saudi library with 300 titles.
At Janadriyah village, King Abdullah gave away prizes to the winners of the first round of the 38 camel races featuring 1,200 racers mostly from the Gulf competing for around SR1.5 million prize in cash and cars.
At the end of the first round, King Abdullah distributed prizes to the first five winners.
South Korean President Lee delivered a speech during the opening session, which marks the 50th year of diplomatic relations between Seoul and Riyadh. He thanked King Abdullah and spoke of his country’s gratitude for being invited to be the guest of honor at the most important cultural event in Saudi Arabia. He added that South Korea wants to honor “the strength of your convictions about dialogue between peoples, religions and civilizations” and spoke of the “special and ancient” relationship between South Korea and the Kingdom.
He explained that South Korea wanted not only to continue with the country's established policy based on mutual respect and dialogue between the two cultures, but to renew and strengthen it. The king, he said, had honored his country by demonstrating on various occasions his desire to know South Korea better and to establish a “lasting and solid relationship, based on mutual understanding of our two peoples and their interests but also of their common hope of living in a world free of intolerance, discrimination and injustice.”
The king’s interfaith initiative, the president said, was “inspired by humanity’s highest values as expressed by the Muslim faith.” It was also an expression of the “noble tradition” of Arab courage, honor and generosity — values which he said made men free.
He said the festival had been established by the king to preserve and celebrate the unique and timeless character of the Arabian Peninsula in a world where globalization “risked making the individual lose a sense of his identity, ancestral heritage and history.” South Korea, he said, was likewise strongly attached to its identity and culture.
Seminars for this year will touch on the most important contemporary issues that are relevant to the region in a positive spirit. Also, seminars will deal with current affairs. The main seminar will be about the vision of King Abdullah for administrative reforms and fighting corruption. There will be also be seminar on Saudi-Korean relations and another on the Arabs and regional powers.
The opening was also attended by Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, deputy prime minister and minister of presidential affairs of the United Arab Emirates.
The Janadriyah village comprises sections representing the Kingdom’s different regions.