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.
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: 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.
[link inactive:404 - Page not found]Saudi Beach 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?
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