Good behavior in public, and why it matters
Respect for public decency is one of the most important characteristics of a civilized society. Some confuse the right to enjoy their own privacy with the right of society as a whole to benefit from the rules of public decency, which vary according to each society and culture.
Moreover, Islam requires us to respect the basic ethics of each society, and to show due respect for the diversity of their cultures and traditions, whether in our own conduct or in how we relate to our environment and the other members of society.
Last week the Saudi Cabinet approved regulations aimed at maintaining public decency, with 10 main provisions. These include prohibitions on any form of abuse in public places, on insulting or disrespecting Saudi culture and traditions, wearing indecent clothing, writing or painting on walls without official authorization, making distasteful statements, and any public act that may harm, intimidate or endanger people.
Offenders may be fined up to SR5,000 ($1,333), and double that amount if the offense is repeated.
The Ministry of the Interior and the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage will work together to determine how the new laws will be implemented. A clear schedule of detailed offenses and corresponding fines is expected in due course.
Obviously, there are many important elements to enforcing such laws. For example, monitoring people’s behavior on the street will surely require dedicated teams of people, and cannot be left to existing security and traffic officers.
My suggestion would be the establishment of a steering team by the Ministry of the Interior and the tourism commission to monitor public decency offenses, and link them in the same way as traffic offenses to each person’s Absher account; this would ensure that individuals treat the issue of public decency seriously and responsibly.
In addition, the activation of the new laws should be accompanied by an adequate period of guidance before the imposition of fines, in order to familiarize society with the nature of potential offenses and to educate them about their consequences.
Finally, the aim of such laws is to encourage and promote among individuals the principles of respect for public decency. Imposing fines and penalties is certainly an effective way of doing so, but not as effective as raising awareness and providing appropriate guidance; this would definitely have a beneficial effect on how people behave, even when they are outside the geographical area covered by the law itself.
Dimah Talal Alsharif is a Saudi legal consultant, head of the health law department at the law firm of Majed Garoub and a member of the International Association of Lawyers. Twitter: @dimah_alsharif