Saudi Arabia implements public decency code as it opens to tourists

Violations listed on the new visa website also include littering, spitting, queue jumping, and taking photographs and videos of people without permission. (AFP)

Saudi Arabia said on Saturday it would issue fines for 19 offences related to public decency, such as immodest dress and public displays of affection, as the Kingdom opens up to foreign tourists.

The Interior Ministry decision came after the Kingdom announced that it is opening its doors to international visitors by offering tourist visas for the first time, allowing holidaymakers from 49 states to visit. Till now, most visitors have been Muslim pilgrims and business people.

Violations listed on the new visa website include littering, spitting, queue jumping, taking photographs and videos of people without permission and playing music at prayer times. Fines range from 50 riyals ($13) to 6,000 riyals ($1,600).

“The regulations are meant to ensure that visitors and tourists in the Kingdom are aware of the law relating to public behavior so that they comply with it,” a government media statement said.

It said Saudi police had the sole responsibility for monitoring offences and imposing fines, a comment that appeared to marginalize the Kingdom’s religious anti-vice squads whose authority to pursue suspects or make arrests was curbed in 2016.

The religious force, known as the mutawa, used to ensure people prayed five times a day in line with Muslim teachings and that women covered their heads. They also enforced bans on music, alcohol, gender-mixing and women driving cars.

But the ban on women driving has been lifted and public entertainment, including once banned cinemas, has flourished. Many restaurants and cafes have removed physical barriers separating genders and no longer stop serving customers at prayer times.

Some women now wear more colorful abayas, the loose fitting robes worn over their clothes that are usually black, or no longer wear the robes at all.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has spearheaded the social opening and reforms to diversify the economy away from oil, said last year that women in Saudi Arabia did not need to wear a headcover or abaya as long as they dressed respectfully.

The changes have been viewed at home and abroad as proof of a progressive trend.

The Gulf country, which shares borders with Iraq to the north and Yemen to the south, boasts vast tracts of desert but also verdant mountains, pristine beaches and historical sites including five UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:53 - GMT 06:53
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