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Saudi Arabia will begin issuing tourist visas for the first time, bringing more attention to its restrictive policies, which include banning Jews.
Travel to the desert kingdom has been limited to business, employment, pilgrimages and specially approved visits, but in the next several weeks a new tourism law will be enacted, reports Arab News, an official English-language newspaper.
The government says it plans to set up a national council for tourism to promote the country in world markets.
But on the Supreme Commission for Tourism’s website is a list of those who are not allowed in the county: [Editor’s note: Since this story was posted early this morning, the Saudi commission has edited the page. Here is how it originally appeared. This is the current version.]
- An Israeli passport holder or a passport that has an Israeli arrival/departure stamp.
- Those who don’t abide by the Saudi traditions concerning appearance and behaviors.
- Those under the influence of alcohol … .
- Jewish People
The website also says if a woman arrives in the country alone, “the sponsor or her husband must receive her at the airport.”
“Every woman must have confirmed accommodation for the duration of her stay in the Kingdom,” the rules say.
Also, “A woman is not allowed to drive a car and can therefore only travel by car if she is accompanied by her husband, a male relative or a driver.”
Saudi Prince Abdul Aziz told Arab News the government expects the tourist industry to create 1.5 million to 2.3 million new jobs for young Saudis by 2020.
“There are more than 10,000 tourist attractions in the Kingdom,” he said.
A college for tourist and hotel management is under construction and the government has plans for 50,000 new hotel rooms.
Saudi writers also have called for opening up the Kingdom to foreign tourists, the Arab News said.
“Foreign tourists would love to enjoy swimming, tanning and water sports in our warm seas in fall and winter, and all-year activities like mountaineering, hiking, car racing and conferences,” wrote Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi of Al-Madinah newspaper.
For Saudis and expatriates, however, the U.S. State Department paints a dark picture of life, stating in its human-rights report the Islamic government has “prohibited or restricted freedom of speech, the press, assembly, association, religion and movement.”
The State Department’s annual report on religious freedom says bluntly, “freedom of religion does not exist in Saudi Arabia.”
In its May report, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom said “Saudi Arabia is a uniquely repressive case where the government forcefully and almost completely limits the public practice or expression of religion to one interpretation: a narrow and puritanical version of Islam based on the Wahhabi doctrine.”