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Is it ethical to visit Saudi Arabia as a tourist?

visiting Saudi Arabia

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In December 2018, Saudi Arabia started issuing tourist visas for the first time in history.

As a Middle Eastern lover, I have wanted to visit Saudi Arabia for a very long time, so when I heard that they were finally issuing them, I applied for mine straight away.

To learn more about it read my Tips for traveling to Saudi Arabia

It was an amazing journey, as I visited many interesting places that I didn’t know existed, plus I met loads of wonderful people.

After posting all my pictures and a few articles and stories, many people were actually surprised by all the beauties this country can offer.

On the other hand, as I was expecting, I also received many negative comments from skeptical people who claimed that visiting Saudi goes against all Western ethics.

If you don’t want to visit Saudi, then I am very happy for you, as everybody is completely free to make their own travel choices.

However, claiming that visiting Saudi as an independent tourist is unethical is not the right approach and, as a traveler, I would like to tell you why.

visit Saudi Arabia

How can you promote a country that doesn’t respect basic human rights?
How can you say good things about those people who oppress their women?
You are a sexist and a misogynist
You are an ignorant who knows nothing

My inbox got flooded with messages like that…

I deleted most of them and blocked those people who were insulting me.

Yes, I visited Saudi Arabia. How can that make you angry?

And yes, I want to say good things about those people who treated me like a royal guest. Am I a sexist for saying this?

I just wanted to share my point of view as a traveler, with the sole objective of showing beautiful places around the world, not trying to sell any propaganda.

Let’s go point by point:

Hanging out with friends in Abha

You shouldn’t visit Saudi Arabia because the country doesn’t respect basic human rights

It seems that a lot of people really like this claim, as I found it several times in my inbox.

All right, let me tell you something.

I don’t travel to judge governments and I don’t go for beers with presidents.

When I travel, I visit places, meet regular people and learn about their culture.

Not traveling to a country because you don’t agree with their government’s policies is a very wrong approach.

In my eyes, one of the evilest governments is the one in the USA.

Sure, they may be a democracy but their international politics suck a lot.

By the same rule of thumb, we should all stop going to the USA, right?

What about Spain? As far as I know, Spain is one of the largest weapon exporters to Saudi Arabia, weapons that are used for the Yemeni war.

Should we all stop from traveling to Spain?

I am from Spain and my government is partially responsible for the Yemeni war. Are you going to hate me for that?

Please note that I am very well aware of what is going on in the country but Saudi Arabia has a population of 20-million and, as such, there are millions and millions of good people that deserve to be known and we can’t blame them for the actions of their government, regardless of whether we like them or not.

You shouldn’t go to Saudi Arabia because women are oppressed by their men

Over the last few years, many pro-feminist groups have been claiming that Saudi Arabia is an extremely patriarchal society where women are oppressed and forced to wear the niqab against their will.

Look, I fully understand their point and yes, Saudi is a paternalist society but that speech is extra-loaded with demagogy and is distant from the actual reality.

First of all, I want to ask you something:

Those who claim such a statement, have you ever carried out a survey in Saudi Arabia, asking local women what they think about it?

It seems that such a strong claim is based on the opinion of people from the West with strong Western values, rather than made by the actual women who live in the country.

I know that you may hate me for saying this but the reality is that most women in Saudi Arabia choose to wear the niqab. Yes, this is the harsh reality and you must accept that.

Chilling with a Saudi woman in Al-Jawf – Yes, you can be with them and they are lovely

They wear it because they believe this is the right thing to do as, according to their interpretation of Islam, this is what God dictates, so they strongly believe they need to wear it, as much as men do.

Are they wrong?

Well, I am not a religious person so, personally, yes, I think they are wrong, but I also respect their decisions, their religion and whatever they want to do with their lives is none of my business.

When I listen to people’s opinions, it looks like they think that women in Saudi are miserable and spend the whole day crying in their rooms, being yelled by their evil husbands for not behaving in certain ways.

No, it’s not like that.

Saudi men aren’t evil but they love their wives and do whatever they think is best for them and this involves being overprotective because, in their eyes and culture, women are weak and fragile, and women believe it as well.

And yes, there are many cases of liberal Saudi women who want to flee from their families because they are forced to do certain things, like that woman who escaped to Canada recently, claiming that Saudi women are slaves of the Saudi society.

I believe her and sure, in her eyes all of them are slaves but that is because she is very liberal but most women don’t feel that way…

Dude, did you know that only in the USA, nearly 3 women are killed everyday by their intimate partners?

I think my next article is going to be: Is it ethical to travel to the USA?

Please note that I am not trying to justify anything here.

Is there anything to be improved? Hell, yeah… A lot, but this doesn’t mean that going there is unethical

I am fully aware of all the problems, that the country’s law is not fair between genders and I don’t share many aspects of their culture but my only point here is that this women’s oppression you are talking about is not entirely true, so this should not stop you from going to Saudi. 

And, by the way, in case you are wondering, Saudi Arabia is a safe place for Western females and foreign women living there claim that they are always treated like queens, which has to do with the cultural aspect of being overprotective with women.

As a woman, you don’t need to cover your head, you can visit Saudi being single, with your boyfriend and you can even wear a bikini at the beach. Truly.

If you want to know more, I recommend you read this article that Nada al Nahdi posted on my site:

9 Misconceptions about solo female traveling in Saudi Arabia

Nada trekking in Saudi Arabia

Visiting Saudi is not ethical because they are homophobic

Sure, homosexuality is not well-accepted in Saudi Arabia, as it is not in most Muslim countries, from Sudan to Syria and Oman.

However, you don’t need to travel to a Muslim country to find homophobia.

I dare you to go to the center of Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, with a rainbow flag, claiming you are homosexual and see what happens.

They may beat the shit out of you, and I am not joking.

In Georgia, there is a really big pro-violence group (supported by the Church) against homosexuals and trust me when I say it is big. Just go to YouTube and search for gay demonstrations in Tbilisi. You are going to freak out.

And yes, I know that the law against homosexual people in Saudi is very extreme but again, I don’t visit governments.

If homophobia is the reason you think visiting Saudi is not ethical, all right, but then also don’t travel to Oman, Iran, Georgia and similar countries.

A friendly Saudi man from Abha

Visiting Saudi is not ethical because they are racist and treat Indians, Bengalis and Pakistanis badly

I also received a few comments and messages from Indians and Pakistanis who claimed that the reason Saudis were so nice to me was that I am a Western tourist.

Fair enough.

I completely agree that being from Spain helps a lot and I can’t really argue about that.

However, what I can tell you is that, unfortunately, racism isn’t a particular thing about Saudi but it happens all over the world and, as always, you are going to meet racist people and non-racist people.

Dude, I lived in Dubai for nearly 3 years, a city home to many South Asian workers as well, and you can’t imagine the endless cases of bad treatment these workers receive from Germans, Brits, as well as Arabs from other countries.

As much as I hate saying this, racism is something tangible in all societies, especially against larger minorities and, by the way, many Indians will agree that Indians themselves are very racist to other Indians from different ethnicities…

In Saudi Arabia, there are many ethnicities. These people are Yemeni-looking guys from Jizan

Conclusion – How was my experience in Saudi Arabia as a tourist?

Like in any country, you are going to find good and bad people and, personally, I had an amazing experience when I visited Saudi.

I have said it many times, but I will say it again.

People in Saudi are, definitely, as friendly and hospitable as the ones you meet in Iran, Pakistan, and Oman.

I hitchhiked 1,300km, from Riyadh to Jizan and, over the journey, countless random people opened their houses to me, took me out for lunch, dinner, to their camel farms and showed me around their beautiful towns and villages.

In the camel farm of my local friend

Everything was so different from what the media has been telling us so, regardless of any government actions you may not agree with, who are you to blame all those kind-hearted people?

Don’t they deserve to be known?

Do you know what I think?

I strongly believe that this sort of speech full of demagogy, like all the messages I received, the only thing they achieve is increasing the generic hate against Saudi men, so who is being unethical here?

To those who called me misogynous, sexist and ignorant, you know what?

Look, instead of laying down on my couch, spitting demagogic speeches based on what I watch on TV,  at least, what I do is trying to open people’s mind, as well as breaking those stereotypes that are doing so much harm to our world.

Long story short: visiting Saudi Arabia as an independent tourist is ethical. Period.

Remember to read all my articles and guides to Saudi Arabia