Last updated on October 5th, 2019
Late last week, in another sign that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is moving ahead with its plans to modernize and achieve its Vision 2030, the nation launched a new Saudi tourist visa regime for 49 countries. The realm in its implication also appealed to foreign companies to invest in its economy, and especially in sector it foresees to generate 10 per cent of GDP by 2030.
Under the de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), Saudi Arabia has opened up on matching the footsteps with its Western allies, yet the ultra-conservative nation has lagged behind to find the real time implementation of its policies.
However, in a surprising announcement made by tourism chief Ahmed al-Khateeb in an interview with Reuters, it came forward that abayas will not be mandatory, but modest dress covering shoulders and knees is a must at public beaches.
He also indicated that alcohol remains banned: “We will have enough tourists to come to Saudi Arabia to enjoy other things.”
It is well accepted that some of the major reforms have been introduced under MbS, but for a Western visitor to the country, the atmosphere still remains far more conservative. Adding to the list, Saudi has really strict rules, little or no tolerance for dissents, piles of human rights abuse allegations and has even faced major rebuke for the murder of Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi.
Having said that, it doesn’t mean all that has been done by the MbS’ reforms cries foul. As a fact, visas are now available online, on arrival or at Saudi diplomatic missions for about $120 including a health insurance fee, according to a press kit. The list of nations that find themselves on an easy enroute to Saudi include, the United States, Russia, China, Japan and many European states, with more to be added later.
The Saudi tourist visas also allow multiple entries and stay up to 3 months. The limitation for unaccompanied women as in the past has also been lifted, while Muslims can perform pilgrimage outside of the haj season.
Clearly, attractions are many, including the religious attestation that naturally draws in the world to Saudi Arabia.
However, in the nation that has approved reforms, predominantly around women’s rights and entertainment, the moves have been deemed as more political than progressive. One such implementation was lifting of ban on female drives, where campaign activists continue to suffer behind the bars.
“There’s still a long way to go obviously, none of this has translated to reforms in terms of political and civil rights,” Adam Coogle, who researches Saudi Arabia for Human Rights Watch said.
Saudi tourist visas maybe a new way to say that conservative Sheikh dome has come far-off from the doctrine that bashed norms of equality, yet ground level reality would only be revealed once foreign tourists visit the nation. Also, the narrative that the Kingdom is trying to create globally will highly likely be challenged, with continuous reports pointing out to even more human rights abuse.