Foreign Tourists Not Welcome

Aryn Baker reports for TIME:

Things move slowly in Saudi Arabia. Prince Sultan launched the tourism commission in 2000. Nine years later he announced that Saudi Arabia would be issuing tourist visas in “the near future.” But, with $288 billion in oil revenues last year, it’s not like Saudi Arabia is desperate for foreign currency. There is much to take into consideration before the country opens its doors: What would the kingdom’s reactive religious conservatives say about an influx of infidels? Would Western women consent to wearing the floor-length black abaya and headscarf that is required of Saudi women? Would those women demand to drive their own rented cars — something Saudi women are not allowed to do? And how could the authorities protect tourists in a country still threatened by domestic terrorism? After all, a militant suspected of having ties to al-Qaeda assassinated four French visitors not far from Mada’in Saleh in 2007. Fears of cultural and political contagion, too, are rife: Western notions of individual freedoms could be intensely destabilizing for a country that has so far weathered the storms of the Arab Spring. While change is happening at an unprecedented rate inside the kingdom — just last month, women started serving on the closest thing the country has to a parliament — a flood of insensitive outsiders could force too much too quickly, provoking a vehement backlash from the country’s conservative core. It’s easier, and less risky, not to let anyone in at all.

The near futures does not sound so near.