In September 2019, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia started a new visa program that will allow visitors from 49 countries to enter. Until then, most of the visas, which grant people from other countries the privilege to visit, were given to business travelers and Muslim pilgrims. The pilgrims had to get special permission to visit the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Other tourists will still find it hard to visit these holy places because few people get permission.
Saudi Arabia is known for its strict dress code and rules of behavior, especially for women. The new laws will be more relaxed. Before the new traveling laws, men and women could not be together in public places and women were required to wear the all-covering black robes known as “abayas.” Even though the new laws won’t be as strict, women must still dress modestly, and alcohol is illegal.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants to encourage tourism and bring the kingdom more into the modern world. He is already credited with other liberal reforms, including giving women the right to drive and allowing cinemas.
The Saudi Arabian Way of Life
Although Saudi Arabia has been around for hundreds of years, it has only officially existed as the current kingdom since 1932. For 1400 years before that, Muslim pilgrims from around the world traveled to the holy sites of Makkah (Mecca) and Madinah (Medina). They brought things from their homes to trade, including ivory from Africa and carpets from the East.
The social customs in Saudi Arabia are quite different from those in Western civilization. Gender segregation is not just about keeping men and women away from each other at public events; it also relates to the workforce. Women may work outside the home as long as the job does not require any contact with men who are not relatives. Men have more rights than women, and women cannot do many things without permission from a male guardian such as a husband, father, or brother.
When someone is caught breaking the law, the goal is to shame the person for behaving poorly. When someone does something inappropriate, it shames their whole family. For example, if a court decides the accused should receive a physical punishment, that punishment is usually carried out in a public place where the person’s name and the ancestral names of his or her family are yelled out for everyone to hear. This type of punishment is supposed to be a shame so bad that it is worse than any physical punishment the person could have received.