Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat- An official source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has revealed to Asharq al-Awsat that the ministry is plans to issue tourist entry visas for tourism by February 2006.
"For the purpose of opening up Saudi Arabia to tourism, and in preparation for membership in the World Trade Organization, we were obliged to study this project, and implement it by the end of this year," the source told Asharq Al-Awsat.
"For Muslims, the entry visa will be for mini-pilgrimage and tourism simultaneously. As for non-Muslims, the visa will be for tourism only. This will facilitate investment in Saudi Arabia, which we hope will happen." The source added
As for the conditions and controls in case of women tourists, the source said "A Muslim woman has to be accompanied by her husband or a Mahram (an unmarriageable relative), because this according to shari”ah law. As for non-Muslim women, they must have a sponsor." regarding the case when the non-Muslim woman is an investor, the source said: "There will be no difference between a female investor and a female tourist but the rules and regulations will be drawn up by the ministry later."
The source also pointed out that some sectors of the society were resentful of the decision to promote tourism giving the justification that it would open the doors to temptation and corruption. However, Sheikh Abdel Muhsin al-Ubaykan expressed admiration of the idea of encouraging tourism, and of exchanging all types of benefits, particularly the economic ones.
Al-Ubaykan said: "This is a good project, and it will be beneficial to non-Muslims by acquainting them with the tolerance of the Islamic religion, the real behavior of Muslims, our original Arab customs, and the correct Islamic methods whose image has been distorted in their countries following the terrorist acts that are attributed to the Muslims, a matter that has caused non-Muslims to be repelled by Islam."
On the issue, that tourism could open the doors for temptation and corruption, Al-Ubaykan commented: "Our youths have studied in these foreign schools and universities, and many of them go to foreign countries for tourism, but, praise be to God, we have not turned against our religion."