The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.

In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

That Railway Bridge again 

It is always gratifying when members of the Saudi royal family read this blog. It is even more gratifying when it stimulates them into some sort of action.

So I was delighted to see that the item on the Ottoman railway bridge in Madinah, Whoops there goes another... , had prompted action from Prince Sultan ibn Salman, secretary-general of the Supreme Commision for Tourism, no less. (Incidentally isn't it impressive how all these top jobs go to Princes, it just shows what a talented and hard-working set of guys they must be). Anyway, according to "Madinah Municipality Justifies Bridge Demolition " in the "Arab News", the Prince had asked the municipal authorities in Madinah to give a convincing explanation for the wrongdoing.

Oh dear. Can't you just sense the panic striking the hearts Abdullah and Ibrahim, the Al-Sheri brothers and supervisors of antiquities, in the Madinah Municipality building? They're often being asked for an explanation for something. That's quite easy. "It was Allah's will, your Excellency" usually does it. Or "I will conduct a thorough investigation immediately" fobs the guy off and he'll have forgotten about it by next week. But a convincing explanation is a bit more difficult. The true explanation, that Ibrahim and Abdullah run a business on the side, with a dozen Pakistanis laborers preparing authentic stone for upmarket buildings and palaces, is certainly convincing, but not advisable, particularly because they didn't cut Prince Sultan in on the deal. So it'll have to be convincing instead.

Picture then the scene. Their morning snooze has been postponed. Coffee and donuts going cold and untasted on the desk. Brains are racked. Terrorist action by a deviant Al-Qaeda group? No, that would have been all over the papers. An earthquake? Well, it's a minor earthquake zone, but nothing else got damaged. A train went over too fast, and derailed? That could explain it, but the last train was in 1917. Fear grips our two part-time entrepreneurs - this might mean relocation to Garbage Disposal, or Sewage, or even worse, Girls' Education. Ibrahim glances at his unopened newspaper. An image on the front page stimulates an indolent brain cell into activity. Katrina. New Orleans.....Of course, a flood! A flood of biblical proportions!

And so the story is published by a gullible local press.

The Madinah Municipality, which drew public criticism for tearing down a portion of the historic Hejaz Railway, said torrential floods had destroyed 80 percent of the railway bridge in the Aqiq Valley.

Nice try guys, but come on! Yes, it does rain in Medianah, occasionally. Short-lasting but intense showers in the rainy season. The empty wadis can fill with water for a few hours, then empty once more. Anyone who lives in Arizona will see something similar. But enough water to wash away a bridge? A bridge that had been standing there for a century?

The municipality also showed pictures of the bridge taken after the floods, which hit Madinah last year, to prove that 80 percent of it was damaged because of the natural disaster.

Unfortunately, they didn't release any of these pictures for publication, so we can't evaluate that claim for ourselves. However my correspondent in Madinah has been fortunate enough to get hold of a copy.

Wow. What a flood that must have been. Not just biblical. Apocalyptic, I would say. I'm sure the Prince would have been convinced, looking at that. Even more convinced when he looked at the remains for himself. Except that there aren't even any remains now.

It also claimed that it removed the remaining parts of the bridge because of the danger it posed to the public.

Not to mention that the Al Sheri brothers had hit on a goldmine, customers just couldn't get enough of the stuff. And let's face it, 20% of a bridge is no use to anyone. Not to mention the danger to the public. Especially the travelling public. Suppose the Istanbul to Damascus Express took a wrong turning and ended up in Madinah, what an accident that would be.

But don't take the word of the Al Sheri brothers, let's see what the experts said.

The municipality also explained that it removed the remaining bridge on the recommendation of a team of engineers including an expert on floods and valleys.

That's a really good idea, including an expert on floods and valleys to give an opinion on a flood in a valley. I never would have thought of that.

The expert, who had earlier worked with the United Nations, warned that the bridge would collapse if hit by another torrential flood.

The expert was obviously disappointed that he missed out on the "Food for Oil" scam, but it looks as though he's on to a lucrative cash flow now.

“We have preserved the stones of the bridge to reconstruct it and protect it as a historic monument,” it added.

Not, however, in neat piles, individually numbered, with a corresponding plan of the bridge showing how they all fit together. Anybody could steal them. No, they are preserved in Abdullah and Ibrahim's newly-constructed luxury villas, and several dozen other buildings, they'll be safe there.

And our brothers have reassured the Prince that all other Madinah antiquities are safe.

A senior municipality official also noted the department’s efforts to protect the Wadi Ronuna Dam as well as some palaces and forts in the city.

Well, perhaps not all antiquities. But definitely some. Who needs all the palaces and forts anyway, a few are enough, just to give a flavor. Otherwise it'll end up like Rome, ruins all over the place. And the brothers have still got a huge backlog of orders. But it's probably time they cut the Prince in, just to avoid problems in the future. In fact, the royals are insisting on it.

“There is an instruction from Crown Prince Sultan, former chairman of SCT, that no historic building or sites will be removed without coordinating with the Supreme Commission for Tourism,”

This blog has no time for useless old heaps of stone, so if the brothers would like to "coordinate" with me as well, I'll supply details of my bank account. Alternatively a stone gazebo in the garden would look very nice.

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