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Back in 1744, the oasis-dwelling al-Saud clan had made a pact with Mohammad bin Abdul Wahhab, founder of the Wahhabi sect, which took an especially strict approach to religious observance.

The warrior al-Sauds got religious legitimacy; the anhedonic Wahhabis got protection.

It was a smile I would grow all too accustomed to from Saudi men in the coming days.

The preservation of these 500 houses surrounding a souk marks an attempt by the Saudis, whose oil profits turned them into bling addicts, to appreciate the beauty of what they dismissively call “old stuff.”Jidda means “grandmother” in Arabic, and the city may have gotten its name because tradition holds that the grandmother of all temptresses, the biblical Eve, is buried here---an apt symbol for a country that legally, sexually, and sartorially buries its women alive.

(A hard-line Muslim cleric in Iran recently blamed provocatively dressed women for earthquakes, inspiring the headline SHEIK IT!

,” I asked.“Women can be buried there,” he conceded, “but you are not allowed to go in and look into it.”So I can only see a dead woman if I’m a dead woman? It’s the most bewitching, bewildering, beheading vacation spot you’ll never vacation in.

Saudi Arabia is one of the premier pilgrimage sites in the world, outstripping Jerusalem, the Vatican, Angkor Wat, and every other religious destination, except for India’s Kumbh Mela (which attracts as many as 50 million pilgrims every three years).

The Web site of the resulting Supreme Commission for Tourism was “a disaster,” one Saudi official abashedly recalls, shaking his head.

The site noted that visas would not be issued to an Israeli-passport holder, to anyone with an Israeli stamp on a passport, or, just in case things weren’t perfectly clear, to “Jewish people.” There were also “important instructions” for any woman coming to the kingdom on her own, advising that she would need a husband or a male sponsor to pick her up at the airport, and that she would not be allowed to drive a car unless “accompanied by her husband, a male relative, or a driver.” Needless to say, there would be no drinking allowed—Saudi officials even try to enforce no-drinking rules on private jets in Saudi airspace, sometimes sealing the liquor cabinets.

A Saudi woman can’t even report harassment by a man without having a or male guardian, by her side.

A group of traditional Saudi women, skeptical of any sort of liberalization, recently started an organization called My Guardian Knows What’s Best for Me.

Finally, belying the fact that Arabs consider hospitality a sacred duty, there was the no-loitering kicker: “All visitors to the Kingdom must have a return ticket.” After New York congressman Anthony Weiner kicked up a fuss, the anti-Semitic language on the Web site was removed.

Now, six years later, the Saudis are trying yet again.

To this day the Koran is the constitution of Saudi Arabia, and Wahhabism its dominant faith.

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