Page last updated at 14:28 GMT, Thursday, 22 May 2008 15:28 UK

Saudi 'Hillary' cheered to summit

Farouk al-Zuman in the Himalayas (photo courtesy of Arab News)
Farouk al-Zuman in the Himalayas (photo courtesy of Arab News)

A 30-year-old Saudi has become the first citizen from the desert kingdom to climb the world's highest mountain.

Farouk al-Zuman said it was his life's ambition to plant a Saudi flag on top of Everest, a feat he achieved at 1230 Mecca time (0930 GMT) on Wednesday.

Mr Zuman's progress has been headline news in Saudi Arabia, where it has boosted national pride and provided a welcome distraction from domestic woes.

He has earned the unlikely nickname of "Sir Edmund Hillary of Saudi Arabia".

"I want to set an example for Saudi youth," Mr Zuman told the Jeddah-based newspaper Arab News.

The US-educated public relations strategist is part of an eight-member team, including four Americans, a Frenchman, an Omani and leader Tim Rebel from Canada.

The Omani was the only member of the team had to abandon his summit attempt because of health complications, Mr Zuman said.

Dramatic moments

The BBC's Middle East analyst Roger Hardy says the feel-good factor of Mr Zuman's achievement has guaranteed it great media interest in Saudi Arabia.

He may not be the first Arab to conquer Everest, the 8,850-metre peak between Nepal and Tibet, but as the first Saudi he is an object of real pride.

It is also a relief from worries about Saudis' everyday worries about inflation and Islamic militancy.

Saudi media have been following every step of the the expedition, which has not been without its dramatic moments.

"We were concerned about his safety and health as we lost contact for quite some time after Farouk's satellite phone failed to work or got disrupted from time to time," said Mr Zuman's mother Aasma quoted by the Arab News newspaper.

Hamid Ansari, the Nepalese ambassador in Saudi Arabia, told the paper: "I was happy to know that this young Saudi has reached the summit and unfurled the Saudi flag, which bears the name of Allah and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)."

"This climb was made in the wake of harsh climatic conditions and deadly blizzards. It is not an easy task," he added.

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