Camels, sword-dancing as Saudis mark heritage, both tribal and national

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- Saudis crowded to camel races and sword-dancing this week at a desert cultural festival that has come to reflect growing anxiety over national unity and the loss of tribal Arab identity to Western culture.

The Janadriyah began 22 years ago as a showcase for a Bedouin culture heritage of camels, tents, coffee pots and swords that seemed in danger of disappearing.

But as well as a jamboree of cultural affirmation, in recent years it has become an opportunity to encourage national unity, with state television showing King Abdullah and other Saudi royals performing a Bedouin sword dance known as 'arda.

The Saudi family used an austere version of Islam to conquer and unite the vast country in the Arabian Peninsula in the early 20th century; commitment to a supranational idea of Islam still comes before patriotism for many Saudis.

But the September 11 attacks of 2001 in the United States, where most of the attackers were Saudis, spurred the authorities to try to boost the sense of belonging to the Saudi state. Regional conflicts such as Iraq have increased this anxiety.

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