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August 18, 2005

Tourism Visas to be Issued in Saudi Arabia

One of my favorite blogs to peruse while I was living in KSA was "The Religious Policeman", written by a very moderate Saudi citizen who had an interesting perspective on the kingdom and what went on there. He was rather critical sometimes, and for that reason went offline for almost a year. Recently, though, he's made a comeback (he lives in England now), and his posts are entertaining as ever.

Apparently, KSA is realizing that they'll need some other way to make money if the oil runs out, so they are turning to tourism. Ironically, tourism is already the second largest revenue source, but it's all related to the Hajj. Not to say that there are no other sights there, as this blog (I hope) refutes. So, if they truly are considering it, that's a good thing.

Below is a fictitious conversation that Mr. Religious Policeman had with the tourism minister, and is pretty funny (and, though fictitious, probably pretty close to the truth...).

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Welcome to Sunny Saudi Arabia

Our Government suddenly seems to have taken fright that the oil may soon run out, and have seized upon foreign tourism as a source of revenue.

Foreign Ministry to Issue Tourist Visas Starting Next Year

Starting next February, the Foreign Ministry will issue tourist visas to all prospective visitors regardless of their religion, press reports said yesterday quoting an informed source at the ministry.

“The ministry will issue tourist visas to Muslims as well as non-Muslims after Dul Hijjah 1426,” the source told Asharq Al-Awsat, a sister publication of Arab News. The source said it was imperative that the Kingdom implement a visa regime to boost tourism and as part of preparations to join the World Trade Organization.

“Muslim tourists will receive visas for both Umrah and tourism,” the source said, adding that Muslim women must have a legal companion while non-Muslim women should have a sponsor in order to get visas.

Knowing how many readers of this blog have been inspired by the idea of visiting Saudi Arabia as tourists, I thought I would find out more about what is actually involved. So here is the exclusive "Religious Policeman" interview with the Minister for Tourism.

RP: Good Morning, Minister.

M: Good Morning. May I say how much I enjoy reading your blog, and your readers' comments?

RP Thank you. Can I start by asking how many non-Muslim tourists came to the country last year?

M: Yes, 5,537.

RP: Oh that's not many, we don't seem to be very welcoming to non-Muslims.

M: Perhaps not, but we had 7,300,000 Muslims come on Pilgrimage and other visits. Non-Muslims could have converted to Islam and there would have been no problem. However, if they don't want to do that, and I do appreciate that circumcision can be painful in adulthood, we're now going to make it easier for them to come here as tourists.

RP: That's good. How?

M: They'll be able to get visas on arrival at the airport, just like Dubai.

RP: So anyone can fly into Riyadh or Jeddah and just pick up a visa at the airport?

M: Men can, certainly, and married couples, as long as they can prove they're married, so they'll need to bring a Marriage Certificate, four copies translated into Arabic and certified by a lawyer. Not a Jewish lawyer, naturally. Women, on the other hand, will need to be sponsored by someone inside Saudi Arabia.

RP: But suppose they don't know anyone in the country?

M: Well, we can't help them there, can we? We're not a Dating Agency.

RP: And what about couples who aren't married, or gay couples?

M: Well as you know, we behead homosexuals, and stone adulterous or loose women to death, so it's probably best if we don't let them in in the first place, otherwise there'll be no end of paperwork.

RP: OK. So we'll allow single men and bona-fide married couples in. But they already go to places like Dubai in hundreds of thousands, it's a major international resort. Why should they come to Saudi Arabia instead?

M: Well, we have lots of sun.

RP: So does Dubai. Can they sit under a sunshade and have a drink, like in Dubai?

M: Certainly not, and if there's any drink in their suitcase, they'll go to prison. But we're not like Dubai, we offer a unique cultural experience.

RP: So they can go and see a show with folk dancing, the sort of thing Greece is good at?

M: How long have you been in Britain? You know we don't have theatres or cinemas or concert halls. No, what I meant was, there are 6,366 heritage and antiquities sites in the Kingdom.

RP: But aren't we knocking these down as quick as we can drive the bulldozers?

M: That's only for the non-Islamic sites and sites that could be associated with idolatry - so just old monuments and fortresses, historic buildings, houses of famous people, things like that. Certainly not the mosques.

RP: So they can go and look round the famous mosques, like they can in Bahrain for example?

M: Well they can certainly look at the outside.

RP: But not the inside? After all, that's where they'd see the beautiful decorations, get a sense of stillness and reverence.

M Oh no, if they go inside we'll put them in prison.

RP: And of course they can't go and visit the spiritual center of Islam, Makkah, or historic Madinah?

M: If we ever found them there they'd certainly go to prison, unless they were lynched first. But they always have the option of converting to Islam.

RP: OK, lets talk about seaside holidays instead. After all, tourists usually want one of two things; a unique cultural experience, or the four S's.

M: The four S's?

RP: Yes. Sun, sand, Sangria and sex.

M: Well we certainly have sun and sand, and I think you already know the answer to the other two.

RP: Well, one thing we have that Dubai doesn't, and that's the deep water Red Sea with coral reefs. Just the place for snorkelling and scuba diving holidays. What can we offer tourists there?

M: Well, the biggest resort on the Red Sea is Jeddah, but nobody swims there, you must have read all the stories about the raw sewage. However we do plan to build some resorts further up the coast.

RP: So men and women will be able to go swimming up there?

M: Certainly

RP: Together?

M: I didn't say that. Swimming together, as you know, is un-Islamic. Most hotels only allow the men to go swimming. However there are one or two already that are more relaxed, and allow men to swim in the morning and women in the afternoon.

RP: And can the women go topless?

M Certainly not. They must keep their heads covered at all times.

RP: Isn't that a bit difficult, swimming in a full-length abaya and headscarf, particularly scuba diving?

M: No, haven't you seen the new fashions?

RP: What fashions?

M: Look at this website, there are lots of fashions the women can wear.

RP: Don't you think that looks completely ridiculous, like a clown in a Circus?

M: Well, I wouldn't want to wear it, but then I don't have much sympathy, women should stay at home to look after the children and do the cooking.

RP: So where will you be going on vacation, Minister?

M: Well, strictly off the record you understand, and like any Saudi who can afford it, I'll be going abroad. I like the South of France. Nothing like a glass of Chablis in a pavement cafe on the Boulevard des Anglais in Nice. Why be in Saudi Arabia when there are so many great vacation spots?

RP. Indeed, Minister. Thank you for the interview.

M: My pleasure. Are you going to do any more photos of kittens?

Posted by djf on August 18, 2005 01:10 AM
Category: The Magical Kingdom

a comment i wrote and couldn't post! On which article is it?

I hope this study was not conducted by someone who hates to see a lady driving a better car than his in the streets of Riyadh one day (although it carries the tune).
From my experience, they become major causes of accidents when they suddenely change their opinion about where they wanna go,,, or when they scream in your ear,,, Oh no!, i remembered, it's this street, turn right now,, HERE! HERE! ,,,,,..

Posted by: Ahmed alhamed on September 1, 2005 08:18 AM

I just read your comedy half way through. funny, but associated with too many misconceptions

Posted by: Ahmed alhamed on September 1, 2005 08:28 AM
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