Despite its great influence on the energy that drives all of Western life, Saudi Arabia remains something of an enigma. The name may conjure up images of ancient Arabic cultures with their exotic charms and rich histories against a backdrop of deep fundamentalist religious roots, which point to the famous Saudi city and international Islamic religous center of Mecca.
Saudi Arabia is a strictly Islamic state, and as such provides little concern for other faiths and practices. The effects of an arduous legal, cultural framework are seen throughout Saudi culture, from religious expression to architecture to public events. Saudi Arabia has no recognized political parties and no national elections.
Among the Saudi traditions perhaps most unusual to the West are those concerning women in education, who are treated as a separate academic concern.
Into these isolated lands and onto these practices virtually all of modern life now intrudes. The land between the Red Sea and Persian Gulf accounts for much of the world's oil supply, and with it, receives untold sums of money from around the globe. It is somewhat surprising to learn that in this international turbulence Saudi Arabia is now about to host one of the more modern and liberal universities in the entire region.
The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology
(KAUST), named after its benefactor, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, is an ambitious, multi-billion dollar, 36,000,000 square meter installation of communities, recreation facilities, university grounds, and other resources situated on the shore of the Red Sea in an enviromentally-sustainable complex. (Perhaps as a further nod to its stated progressive aims and values, KAUST even includes a yacht club and golf course.) KAUST claims that it will "focus on research that applies science and technology to the problems of human need, social advancement, and economic development. Rather than organizing around academic disciplines, four strategic research thrusts will build KAUST’s research agenda: Resources, Energy and Environment, Biosciences and Engineering, Materials Science and Engineering, and Applied Mathematics and Computational Science."
The KAUST website
provides a wealth of information about the University and grounds, and the site's media section
links to a variety of independent reports on the facility.