Saudi Arabia Now Open to Tourists, But Don’t Bring Too Many Bibles

By Kharen Martinez Murcia | October 1, 2019 | 4:53pm EDT
Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin
Salman. (Getty Images)

( -- Saudi Arabia announced on Sept. 27 that it is opening its country to international tourists, an opportunity that has been largely reserved to business and religious visitors. Although the change is welcome, the Saudi kingdom, a Muslim monarchy that follows sharia, has a troubling human rights record, according to the U.S. State Department.

The change is part of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman’s project of modernization, which is designed to help reduce the country's dependence on an oil economy.

Saudi Arabia will grant visas to tourists from 49 countries, including the United States, and will allow tourists to spend up to 90 days at a time in the kingdom under a one-year multiple entry visa, according to the website

(Getty Images)

Time magazine reported that the Kingdom expected “100 million foreign and domestic visitors by 2030,” which will “create 1 million new jobs in the tourism sector.” They will be competing with other states in the region and “regional security will also be paramount,” said Time.

Saudi Arabia, nonetheless, has some serious human rights problems.

The U.S. State Department in its 2018 report on Saudi Arabia stated that “human rights issues included unlawful killings; executions for nonviolent offenses; forced renditions; forced disappearances; and torture of prisoners and detainees by government agents.”

There also is extensive, official discrimination against women.

In one case covered widely by the media, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by government agents.

(Getty Images)

“The government or its agents engaged in arbitrary or unlawful killings,” reported the State Department.  “On October 2, [2018],  Jamal Khashoggi, a prominent Saudi journalist who lived abroad in ‘self-exile,’ was killed by government agents during a visit to the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The government initially claimed he had left the consulate in good health but changed its story as facts came to light.”

Prince Mohamed bin Salman told CBS  that he takes responsibility for the killing, “but denies that he ordered it.”

“Under the country’s interpretation and practice of sharia (Islamic law), capital punishment may be imposed for a range of nonviolent offenses, including apostasy, sorcery, and adultery, although in practice death sentences for such offenses were rare and often reduced on appeal,” said the State Department.

Other abuses cited in the report include the following:

“The law forbids apostasy and blasphemy, which can carry the death penalty ….

“In November … some female right-to-drive activists arrested in May and June were subjected to torture and sexual harassment while in detention at Dhahban Prison near Jeddah.

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“[A]uthorities arrested at least 30 prominent women activists and their male supporters and imposed travel bans on others, in connection with their advocacy for lifting the ban on women driving. (The ban was lifted on June 24, 2018.)

“Saudi women reported that domestic abuse in the form of incest was common but seldom reported to authorities due to fears over societal repercussions….

“[W]omen have fewer political or social rights than men, and they often are not treated as equal members in the political and social spheres. The guardianship system requires that every woman have a close male relative as her ‘guardian’ with the legal authority to approve her travel outside of the country.

“The country’s interpretation of sharia prohibits women from marrying non-Muslims, but men may marry Christians and Jews.

“Regulations prohibit men from marrying women from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Chad, and Burma.

“The law requires women to sit generally in separate, specially designated family sections in public places. They frequently cannot consume food in restaurants that do not have such sections.

“Women also faced discrimination in courts, where in some cases the testimony of one man equals that of two women. All judges are male, and women faced restrictions on their practice of law

 “The law does not provide for freedom of expression, including for the press.

“The law does not provide for freedom of assembly and association, which the government severely limited.

(Getty Images)

Among the requirements that Saudi Arabia asks from tourists is to respect the customs of Islamic traditions and abide by their laws, which include a prohibition against alcohol and illegal drugs. Tourists are also asked to abide by a dress code.

As the Saudi website states, “Both men and women are asked to dress modestly in public, avoiding tight fitting clothing or clothes with profane language or images. Women should cover shoulders and knees in public.”

The public practice of any religion besides Islam is forbidden by law. If you try to convert anyone from Islam to a different religion, it is a crime. A Christian tourist is allowed to bring a Bible for personal use, in private, but to bring in multiple Bibles is against the law.

Also, under the new tourist regulations, “men and women are required to refrain from public displays of affection, and avoid using profane language or gestures,” according to the U.K. foreign travel website. “Taking pictures or recording videos without permission is not permitted.”

“Homosexual or extra-marital sexual relations, including adultery, are illegal and can be subject to severe penalties,” stated Gov.UK.  “It’s also illegal to be transgender. Transgender people travelling to Saudi Arabia are likely to face significant difficulties and risks if this is discovered by the authorities…. Importing pork products is forbidden.”

“The possession of pornographic material, or of illustrations of scantily dressed people, especially women, is prohibited,” stated Gov.UK.

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