Powered by WebAds

Thursday, August 09, 2007

They won't let my bible in, but will they let me in?

In this morning's Jerusalem Post, Michael Freund reports that despite its purported efforts to promote tourism, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia still confiscates bibles, crucifixes and stars of David.
"A number of items are not allowed to be brought into the kingdom due to religious reasons and local regulations," declares the Web site of Saudi Arabian Airlines, the country's national carrier.

After informing would-be visitors that items such as narcotics, firearms and pornography may not be transported into the country, the Web site adds: "Items and articles belonging to religions other than Islam are also prohibited. These may include Bibles, crucifixes, statues, carvings, items with religious symbols such as the Star of David, and others."


An official at the Saudi Consulate in New York, who declined to give her name, told the Post that anyone bringing a Bible into the country or wearing a crucifix or Star of David around their neck would run into trouble with Saudi authorities.

"You are not allowed to bring that stuff into the kingdom," the consular official said. "If you do, they will take it away," she warned, adding, "If it is really important to you, then you can try to bring it and just see what happens, but I don't recommend that you do so."

Asked to explain the policy, the official said, "Every country has rules about what can or cannot enter."
This got me to thinking whether I could be admitted to Saudi Arabia at all.

Many Israelis have dabbled in brokering oil transactions from time to time, and although I have never actually seen one go through, rumor has it that Israelis can be paid commissions on transactions involving Saudi light crude oil. Most Saudi Light transactions close across a conference room table in Aramco's (the Saudi national oil company) offices. Could I go to Saudi Arabia to close a deal?

According to the Saudi government web site, these are the requirements for a 'business visa' (as far as I can tell, there is no way of getting a visa to Saudi Arabia without an official invitation from a government agency, but we will come back to that issue):
Please note that visas are generally issued on the same day or within 24 hours at the latest if all the required documents are in order.


1. Log on to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website at http://visa.mofa.gov.sa/eDefault.asp click on Personal Visa Request form and complete the online request for visit visa. It is importatnt to record the request number on the application and presnted to the consulate.
2. A passport valid for at least six (6) months, with at least two (2) clear visa pages adjacent to each other.
3. One (1) recent passport size color photograph with a white background; the photograph must be a full-face view in which the visa applicant is facing the camera directly. Side or angled views are NOT accepted.
4. A completed application form filled in with black ink pen or printed. Application forms can be downloaded from the website (www.saudiembassy.net). Please include your email address on the application.
5. An invitation letter, certified by both a Saudi Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This letter should include complete information about the company: its location and type of business, in addition to the name, nationality, position, length of visa, purpose of travel and number of entries requested by the applicant. No Chamber of Commerce certification is needed, however, for invitations issued by a government company, such as Saudi Aramco, SABIC, Saudi Arabian Airlines, Ma'aden, or the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority.
6. A letter addressed to the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington DC by the applicant’s employer in the USA. The letter must contain the following information:
- the name of the company and that of the establishment based in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia;
- the applicant’s position, which should match the position referred to in the invitation letter that comes from the establishment based in Saudi Arabia;
- the purpose and requested duration of stay in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
7. For non-US citizens, a copy of the green card or a document confirming legal residence in the USA.
8. A money order or cashier’s check for the amount of one hundred and eight US dollars (US$ 108.00) for US passport holders for both single and multiple entries. For non-US citizens the visa fee is fifty-four US dollars (US$ 54.00) for a single entry and one hundred and thirty-five US dollars (US$ 135.00) for multiple entries. Cash and personal checks are not accepted.
Let's say for argument's sake that "Saudi Aramco" issues me a magic letter and I am able to apply for my visa.

First, I need to worry about these little 'notes' at the bottom:

* Visitors should not overstay the time granted on the visa.
* Business visas do not grant to the applicant the right to work or to reside in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
* Visitors to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia must abide by the country’s Islamic laws and regulations and respect its society’s values and traditions.
* The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's laws against drug trafficking are strictly enforced. Violators are subject to severe punishment, which may include the death penalty.
I guess that third one is why they ban bibles and crucifixes and stars of David. I wonder what they would do with my tefillin (sample pair pictured)....

I'm not worried about the drugs part. I don't do drugs.

The visa application asks for my religion, and says that I agree to have my fingerprints taken, my 'retinal' scanned and that I agree to abide by the laws of the Kingdom while I am there. That doesn't sound too problematic. Unless they ban Jews or Israelis....

Then I found this at the site of Irantours, a certified travel agency for Saudi Arabia:
Restricted entry: (a) Holders of an Israeli passport or passports with Israeli stamps in them. (b) Passengers not complying with Saudi conventions of dress and behavior, including those who appear to be in a state of intoxication, will be refused entry (see Social Conventions section). (c) There are special regulations concerning pilgrims entering Saudi Arabia. Contact the Consulate (or Consular section at Embassy) for further information.
I wonder what 'restricted entry' means. I have an Israeli passport, but I also have an American one, issued in Jerusalem, no country. If necessary, the US would quietly issue me a second passport so that should not be an issue. But can a Jew travel to Saudi Arabia?

As of 2004, the answer was a resounding "no." This travel site claims that's still the case:
For centuries Arabia has appealed to travelers all over the world, inspired by travel reports and of course the tales of 1001 nights and the romanticism. Today’s Saudi Arabia is still a land of mystery largely due to its fundamentalist Islam state form and its rigid admission policy. Saudi Arabia is incredibly difficult to visit, there's no tourist visa in this country. Best way to get in is by invitation of a Saudi person or company, or, if you’re a Muslim, on a pilgrimage to one of the holy cities.

Of course, don't even bother if you are Jewish. Jews are forbidden in Saudi Arabia . Don't bring your bible either, they will shred it at customs for you. This is an absolute monarchy ruled under Sharia. Women are beaten for immodesty (ankle display) and are forbidden to drive. Hands are amputated for theft. Adultery is punishable by public execution.
But Joshua Muravchik says I can go to Saudi Arabia after all. Just don't leave any Jewish religious objects in sight.
The application for a visa to Saudi Arabia asked for my religion. In inviting me to give some lectures and interviews, the American embassy in Riyadh had already suggested I answer “non-Muslim”—its standard advice to American visitors, I was told. But I did not feel comfortable with this evasion, so I put “Jewish.” My visa came through nonetheless.

I was under the impression that Jews were or had been barred from the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and once there I asked several Saudis if this was true. Some agreed that the ban had once applied to all Jews, but most denied it, saying that only Israelis were excluded. Among the deniers was Prince Turki al-Faisal, an important figure in the ruling family and a former ambassador to the United States. He cited two examples that he could recall personally: the visits of Rabbi Elmer Berger in the 1950’s and Henry Kissinger in the 1970’s. Respectful of royalty, I did not reply that, given Kissinger’s lofty position in the U.S. government, and Berger’s notoriety as the then leading Jewish opponent of the state of Israel, his examples were of mixed import.

I had asked my embassy hosts whether I could bring a prayer book with me; they advised against it, warning that non-Muslim religious articles might be confiscated on arrival. But since I was in mourning for my father and unlikely to find a minyan in Saudi Arabia, my only recourse was to bring prayers and psalms to recite on my own. In the event, my luggage was not searched. Once inside the country, several people suggested that I not leave the book in sight in my hotel room, lest cleaning personnel or covert visitors from the security services report it. I did as advised, and nothing came of the matter.
Now all I have to do is get a deal through....


Post a Comment

<< Home