Saudi Arabia Current Affairs - 2020

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to offer tourist visas for the first time

The kingdom of Saudi Arabia will offer tourist visas for the first time as part of a push to diversify its economy away from oil. The move to open up the ultra-conservative kingdom to holidaymakers comes just two weeks after devastating attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure, which has roiled global energy markets.

Key Highlights

Kickstarting tourism in the kingdom is one of the centrepieces of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reform programme so as to prepare the biggest Arab economy for a post-oil era.

Country’s tourism attraction treasure includes- 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, a vibrant local culture and breathtaking natural beauty.

Initially, Saudi Arabia will open applications for online tourist visas to citizens of 49 countries. The kingdom will also ease its strict dress code for foreign women, thereby allowing them to go without body-shrouding abaya robe that is still mandatory public wear for Saudi women.

However, the kingdom, which forbids alcohol and has a strict social code, is seen by many as a hard sell for tourists.

Prince Mohammed is already seeking to change the way world views Saudi Arabia through a sweeping liberalisation drive that has brought new cinemas, mixed-gender concerts and sporting extravaganzas to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia’s efforts to Build Tourism

In kingdom Visas are restricted to expat workers, their dependents and Muslim pilgrims travelling to holy sites in Mecca and Medina, however, in a bid to kickstart tourism Saudi Arabia began issuing visas to visitors for attending cultural and sporting events in 2018.

In 2017, the kingdom announced a multi-billion dollar project to turn 50 islands and other pristine sites on Red Sea into luxury resorts.

The kingdom is also developing historic sites like centuries-old Mada’in Saleh. This site is home to sandstone tombs of same civilisation which built Petra, the Jordanian city.

Saudi Arabia adopts Digital India, equality of women in Haj 2019

Indian Haj mission in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has adopted digital technology to reach out to a large number of pilgrims as part of Digital India initiative of Government of India.

Key Initiatives

Indian Haj Information System (Haj App):

It has been developed to receive feedback, a grievance from Hajis (Haj pilgrims).

At present, it receives feedback in English, Hindi and Urdu but soon other regional languages will be incorporated.

The app also connects pilgrims with Haj service coordinators (of their respective states) known as Qadimul Hajjaj. Qadimul Hajjaj are government employees who are deputed to assist pilgrims during Haj season.

Significance: With introduction of Haj App, Indian diplomats in Saudi Arabia are trying to form a bridge with pilgrims so as to facilitate a smooth and hassle-free Haj operation to them and also to receive grievances and feedbacks to improve service.

e-MASIHA: for medical facilities to visiting pilgrims.

e-MASIHA (Medical Assistance System for Indian Hajis Abroad) is an online platform where Health status and medical history of visiting pilgrims is being stored.

It would retrieve pilgrims’ health information to apply appropriate treatment whenever he or she visits Indian medical facilities during Haj.

Other intiatives:

Besides App, other means to connect the officials and pilgrims are website and social media channels, toll-free numbers and exclusive in-house Youtube channel.

SIM Cards: Pilgrims are being provided Saudi Arabian mobile SIM card in India itself. These SIM cards can be activated in their buildings in Madinah and Makkah after recording their biometrics. Also, Biometrics is a mandatory requirement for issue of SIM cards in Saudi Arabia.

About Hajj

It is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia the holiest city for Muslims.

Hajj 2019: will begin in the evening of 9 August and ends in the evening of 14 August 2019. This year, a total of 2 lakh Indian pilgrims are expected to travel for Haj to Saudi Arabia. Out of this 1.4 lakh pilgrims are travelling through government arm HCI (Haj Committee of India) and remaining through private Haj operators.

This year 2332 single women are travelling for Haj under Centre governments’ Haj without ‘Mehram’ (male companion) initiative. In a bid to empower Muslim women, Narendra Modi government has removed restriction on single women pilgrims to travel and encouraged them to apply for Haj.