Saudi Arabia has been slowly opening its doors for tourists, and now individuals from 49 countries can visit the kingdom for leisure purposes. But precautionary measures must be taken when visiting the kingdom.
On Saturday, Saudi Arabia said it would impose fines on individuals who violate the kingdom's "public decency law." The law, which criminalizes any act deemed distasteful to the public, was officially passed in April but hasn't been implemented till now.
The interior ministry said it had identified "19 offenses," but did not specify the penalties for violations. Some of the offenses include immodest clothing, though female tourists aren't obliged to wear an abaya, and public displays of affection. Female tourists are, however, expected to cover their shoulders and knees when out in public, as highlighted on the kingdom's online visa portal.
"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 statement said.
The law's first article defines public decency as "a set of behaviors and morals that reflect the country's social norms, values and identity."
The law criminalizes bullying in all its forms including calling people names or using racist language as well as engaging in acts of sexual nature when out in public spaces. Playing loud music or making any disruptive sound in public is also prohibited. Immodest clothing, for men and women, or garments with questionable prints on them are punishable under the law. For men, wearing shorts or walking in public in white underwear garments is considered an offense.
In addition to the above, the law criminalizes crossing a queue in a public space, filming people without their consent, unlicensed graffiti art, putting up posters in streets, placing advertising brochures in front of homes or on cars, littering, and going into mosques while wearing dirty clothes.
As the kingdom welcomes tourists, it is quite expected to see the law take effect now. According to Reuters, the fines can range anywhere from 50 riyals ($13) to 6,000 riyals ($1,600). Fines may double if it's a repeat offense.
The law affects a wide range of public spaces
Any place outside a person's home or personal space is governed by the "public decency law," including:
- All public transportation
- Educational facilities
- Medical facilities
- Shopping centers
- Sports stadiums
- Sports clubs/gyms
The authorities responsible for issuing fines under the legislation include the kingdom's Ministry of Interior and the country's Tourism Authority.
Relaxed laws under Vision 2030
Saudi Arabia has eased up its conservative laws in recent years. Confining the power of the kingdom's religious police was the first step taken to ensure materialization.
The kingdom has since lifted bans on cinemas and women drivers. It's even hosted mixed-gender events and music festivals. The fact that the kingdom is giving tourists the chance to visit the kingdom - without a religious purpose - is an additional step forward. Alcohol remains illegal, which may turn away some travelers. It also remains unclear whether unmarried foreign couples would be allowed to share a hotel room.
Still, jumpstarting the tourism sector is one of the key goals under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 which aims at reducing the country's reliance on oil. And the developments are materializing quicker than expected.