All you need to know about the new Saudi public decency code

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Participants attend the launch of the new tourism visa in Ad Diriyah, a UNESCO-listed heritage site, outside Riyadh on September 27, 2019. (AFP / Fayez Nureldine)
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Participants attend the launch of the new tourism visa in Ad Diriyah, a UNESCO-listed heritage site, outside Riyadh on September 27, 2019. (AFP / Fayez Nureldine)
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Participants attend the launch of the new tourism visa in Ad Diriyah, a UNESCO-listed heritage site, outside Riyadh on September 27, 2019. (AFP / Fayez Nureldine)
Updated 29 September 2019

All you need to know about the new Saudi public decency code

  • Ministry of Interior announcement comes as the Kingdom opens up to foreign tourists
  • Police officers to be sole authority responsible for monitoring offenses and imposing fines

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has given the go-ahead to implement new regulations related to public decency as the country opens up to foreign tourists.
Interior Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Saud bin Naif on Friday approved the rules, which identify 19 offenses as punishable.
The ministerial decision accompanies the launch of a visa regime that allows holidaymakers from 49 countries to visit Saudi Arabia. Until now, most visitors to the Kingdom have been either pilgrims or businesspeople.
Men and women are required to dress modestly, refrain from public displays of affection, and avoid using profane language or gestures. 
Women are required to cover shoulders and knees in public, but they are free to choose a modest choice of clothing.

Illustration courtesy of

The Kingdom is encouraging tourists and visitors to familiarize themselves with public decency laws in order to avoid fines.
Violations listed on the new visa website include littering, spitting, queue jumping, taking photographs and videos of people without permission, and playing music at prayer times.
Fines range from SR50 ($13) to SR6,000.

“The regulations are meant to ensure that visitors and tourists in the Kingdom are aware of the law relating to public behavior so that they comply with it,” said a government media statement, adding that Saudi police had the sole responsibility for monitoring offenses and imposing fines.
The sale, purchase and consumption of alcohol are illegal in Saudi Arabia, as is bringing alcohol or drugs into the country.
The new code forbids hate, racism, discrimination and indecent behavior. Anyone found engaging in indecent behavior, which includes acts of a sexual nature, will receive a SR3,000 fine that can be doubled if the violation is committed a second time.

The charter forbids playing loud music in a residential area without a prior license. The violator will receive a SR500 penalty that could be doubled if repeated.
The same punishment will be imposed on anyone caught littering streets and public places, jumping over or going around barriers to access a public place, or wearing clothing with language, images or symbols that promote discrimination, racism, porn or drug use.

A person who plays loud music at prayer times will receive a SR1,000 fine. Repeating the violation exposes the offender to a SR2,000 penalty.
Saudi Arabia has traditionally given high priority to attention and respect for the elderly and those with special needs. 
As such, the new code says anyone who occupies their seats and facilities will receive a SR200 fine for the first time. The fine can be doubled if the violation is repeated.
The new code imposes a SR100 fine on people who fail to remove the excrement of their pets. The fine can be doubled if the violation is repeated.
The same punishment can apply to other violations such as writing or drawing on public transportation vehicles or public walls; lighting fires in public places; harming or frightening anyone in a public place, whether verbally or physically; and directing harmful lights, such as laser beams, at someone.

The new code includes a SR1,000 fine for those who take photos or videos of people without their permission. 
The fine, which may be increased to SR2,000, applies to taking photos or videos of traffic accidents, crimes and other similar incidents.
Unless allowed, those who do not respect their turn in a line of people waiting to be served will be fined SR50. That amount can be doubled if the law is broken a second time.
The new code says no penalties can be imposed on any behavior not mentioned in the charter. It adds that violators will have to bear the costs of rectifying their violation. 
Anyone harmed by a violation can claim their private rights and file a lawsuit against the offender.
In case of multiple offenders in a single violation, the prescribed fine shall be imposed separately on each violator.
Any person on whom a penalty is imposed has the right to file a complaint before the Public Decency Circuit at the Specialized Court (Board of Grievances).

Blessing in disguise: How pandemic was a catalyst for Saudi SMEs to change

Saudi Arabia’s consumer behavior was transformed during the lockdown as soon as malls and stores were ordered to shut their doors, creating a frenzy among consumers. (SPA)
Updated 20 September 2020

Blessing in disguise: How pandemic was a catalyst for Saudi SMEs to change

  • E-platforms played a crucial role in SMEs’ survival
  • COVID-19 transformed people’s shopping habits

JEDDAH: Saudis continue to shop online despite the government easing the COVID-19 lockdown, with the surge in e-commerce prompting small and medium-sized enterprises to adapt.

E-commerce saved global retail markets from collapse and stopped consumers from having to go out during the first wave of the outbreak. However, SMEs were the most vulnerable to the pandemic’s consequences and e-platforms played a crucial role in their survival.
Saudi Arabia’s consumer behavior was transformed during the COVID-19 lockdown as soon as stores were ordered to shut their doors, creating a frenzy among consumers although they were quick to adapt. SMEs were also forced to adapt, not only to accommodate the growing demand for online shopping but to ensure they survived with minimal losses.
Marion Janson, the chief economist at the UN’s International Trade Centre, said in June that around 20 percent of SMEs globally may not survive the pandemic.
A recent report from Visa revealed increased anxiety among merchants in Saudi Arabia, with 67 percent of small businesses noticing a decrease in average consumer spending.
Many Saudi consumers started shopping online for the first time, primarily for essentials. The Visa report showed that two-thirds of the Saudi consumers surveyed said that COVID-19 led to their first online grocery purchase, while 59 percent made their first online purchase from pharmacies.
“With the confusion at the beginning, we didn’t know what was acceptable and what wasn’t,” said Dr. Suhad Zain, a government employee in Jeddah. “Can we risk going out to shop for our daily needs or not? We needed to be sure that everyone in the house was safe, including the driver, and not expose ourselves to the invisible menace that changed our lifestyles. Most of our groceries were obtained online, from produce to water bottles to even appliances and leisure items. It had to be done, even though we needed time to accept the new change.”
Fear of the virus is expected to change the way consumers behave forever. “It became more convenient even after the lockdown was lifted,” Zain added. “After a few months we got used to it and, as a family, it became our new preferred means of purchase.”
Such conditions were a catalyst for online commerce, according to the Visa report, with 38 percent of merchants in the country reporting the introduction of online offerings as a direct result of the pandemic while more than half had an e-commerce presence before the pandemic.

Two-thirds of the Saudi consumers said COVID-19 led to their first online grocery purchase, while 59% made their first online purchase from pharmacies. (GettyImages)

The report also said there was a surge in e-commerce, a preference for trusted brands, a decline in discretionary spending, and a polarization of sustainability. Consumers have a larger basket, but reduced shopping frequency, and will shift to stores closer to home. A change can easily be detected in Saudi consumer behavior.
But the shift to online commerce, with cash transactions being replaced by digital payments, has negatively influenced cash-only retailers and presents a tough challenge to these merchants, who have to understand the shift in consumer behavior and adapt accordingly and urgently.
“Saudi business owners currently face multiple challenges that they need to deal with when they want to shift to e-commerce, some of them even lack the knowledge of how technology could benefit them and what options it could offer,” Talal Abdullah, a business development and marketing consultant, told Arab News.
“Also some will need to find a technical partner to successfully transform to e-commerce and, most importantly, they need to revisit their business model canvas to determine how they want to employ this technology for the best of their businesses.”
In order to overcome these challenges, Abdullah suggested that business owners look for the right technical partner based on their new model.
“If they fail to find a suitable technical partner, then they need to set a clear budget for the application or website they need to set up. But before reaching out to any company that offers support with these technical services, you must get in touch with real clients of these companies and inquire about their business and how they deal with them.”
He added that seeking assistance from technical consultants or owners of similar projects could cut down on time and effort. Joining business accelerators and incubators, as well as entrepreneurship and technology communities, could help with expanding knowledge and relationships and contribute overall to a smoother transition.
But these changes have their costs too, imposing new financial burdens on an already weakened business due to the pandemic and the time required to build and adapt a new business model that targets a completely different group of customers. It is a serious challenge for many small retailers.
Abu Mohammed has been in the retail business for 20 years. He used to have frequent customers who came in for a specific type of clothing with a certain price range. But, with the lockdown, he could hardly sell anything.
“I began targeting a different kind of customer in the past couple of years where I was importing new clothes and selling them through Instagram and e-commerce websites,” he told Arab News. “However I still cannot completely substitute my current store with a completely virtual one. That needs time and money to build a reputation.”
He said the lockdown had been a harsh experience for him and that he recognized the need to expedite his old plans to transform his store into an actual brand, since people were gradually moving toward online shopping from well-known brands.
“This transformation is not going to be easy at all,” he added. “It will need a good marketing plan and well-spent money not only on tools but also staff. It is a completely new experience, however. I know e-commerce is here to stay and it is our only way forward. Otherwise my work for years will gradually vanish. This crisis could be a blessing in disguise, who knows.”