Saudi authorities warned non-Muslim expatriates on Friday, the first day of Ramadan, not to eat, drink, or smoke in public until the end of the Muslim holy month's sunrise-to-sunset fast - or face expulsion.
The Interior Ministry of the oil-rich kingdom called on expatriates
to "show consideration for feelings of Muslims" and "preserve the sacred
Islamic rituals." Otherwise, a ministry statement said, Saudi
authorities will cancel violators' work contracts and expel them.
Comparing with the Saudis, our religious enforcement officers don't really go to hotels and exclusive restaurants to nab these people. I remember during the 1980s, there were cases when those eating in public during Ramadan were ushered onto 'kereta jenazah' and driven around town before being penalised.
Saudi Arabia's population of 27 million includes some 8 million
expatriates, including Asians, Arabs, and Westerners, according to
The ultraconservative Sunni kingdom is the home of Islam's holiest
sites. The warning - which is issued at the beginning of Ramadan every
year - serve as a reminder that the Western-allied monarchy must answer
to a strict religious establishment that holds de facto veto power over
many of its policies.
With challenges to the established order growing bolder from a
population nearly half of which is under 30, Saudi Arabia has recently
made some moves to show moderation. It is sending female athletes to the
Olympics for the first time this year. King Abdullah has promised to
allow women to run and vote in municipal elections in 2015. He also has
tried to rein in the country's feared morality police.
But some people believe that while such
moves give impression that the grip of hardliners has eased, "when you
look around, nothing has changed and suppression has not changed."
Warnings or no warnings, they say "expatriates are always at risk of expulsion for the least offense in the kingdom."
The prince newly appointed to handle most aspects of law enforcement
is known as a strict adherent to religious rules. Prince Ahmed bin
Abdulaziz was governor of the holy city of Mecca before becoming
Saudi Arabia is wary of the wave of Arab Spring uprisings that has
toppled long-time authoritarian leaders in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and
It followed a carrot-and-stick strategy to contain unrest by pledging
around $120 billion for the kingdom's lower income groups. It has
heavily cracked down on protests, especially in eastern regions
dominated by Shiites demanding greater rights, and is steering a middle
course between conservatives and reformers among the Sunni majority.