Safety in Saudi Arabia

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Safety in Saudi ArabiaThe country’s strict interpretation of Sharia law and harsh punishments handed out for illegal activity have meant that safety in Saudi Arabia is not a major concern. There is normally tight security in and around expat compounds, leaving residents feeling quite protected.

Although terrorism is an ongoing concern in the wider region, there have been no recent attacks in Saudi Arabia, and no incidents that would warrant any concerns for the short-term. Protests, although illegal, have taken place on occasion, but Saudi Arabia has not witnessed the level of protests experienced by other countries in the Middle East in recent times.

Crime in Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has harsh punishments for criminal activity. Executions by beheading, stoning or firing squad are common for crimes such as murder, rape and armed robbery. Amputations of hands and feet are punishment for robbery. Behaviour such as drunkenness, apostasy, adultery and homosexuality, actions which may be seen as mere misdemeanours in the Western world, are also subject to harsh punishment such as flogging. These sentences may seem archaic by Western standards, but have been a factor in keeping crime statistics in Saudi Arabia down. 
Expats need to act modestly and adhere to the strict code of conduct when out in public in Saudi Arabia. Inside expat compounds it is often a different story. The Mutaween, who are the keepers of social compliance in Saudi Arabia, rarely enter these compounds, and expats thus get away with much behaviour that would be considered unacceptable outside the walls of the compound.
Most expats live in Western compounds where security is tight, and burglary and armed robbery are not a concern. Nevertheless, petty theft does occur on the streets of Saudi towns and cities, and opportunistic theft from vehicles also occurs. Expats should always be alert when walking in the street and keep all valuables out of sight.
Expat women in Saudi Arabia face additional challenges. Often seen as potentially promiscuous by local men, thanks to the Western media, sexual assault in Saudi Arabia is common. Women in the Kingdom are often victims of harassment and stalking – it’s not uncommon for a woman to be followed by a local male resident on foot or in a vehicle. There have also been reports of Saudi citizens harassing foreigners who they believe are not observing conservative standards of conduct.

Terrorism in Saudi Arabia

There are ongoing concerns of terrorism in Saudi Arabia, with the US State Department warning of possible attacks in the country, particularly against Western targets and Saudi oil infrastructure. However, no major incidents have occurred in recent times.
Nevertheless, there have been some terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia in the past; these have taken the form of kidnapping, bombings of residential compounds and Saudi government offices, and an attack on the US Consulate in Jeddah. The Saudi government takes the threat of terrorism seriously and has carried out a number of arrests of suspected Islamist militants in recent years. Expats should ensure that they stay in secure accommodation, and if in a compound, that adequate security is in place. 

Protests in Saudi Arabia

Public demonstrations in Saudi Arabia are illegal. The government has invested heavily in employment and education programmes, which has gone a long way to alleviating discontent among the local population, and protests and demonstrations in the Kingdom are uncommon.
Although there were a few minor public demonstrations staged during the “Arab Spring”, the turnout was minimal and Saudi Arabia has been largely unaffected by the protests that have gripped many of its neighbours in the wider Middle East region. Most of the demonstrations in the Kingdom took place in the Eastern Province, which has the largest concentration of Saudi Arabia’s Shia minority. 
Police are generally out in full force in the vicinity of any gatherings, and although sporadic violent confrontations have occurred between police and protesters, security has been stepped up in the Eastern Province, particularly in and around the city of Qatif. Protests are most common after Friday prayers and these should be avoided due to the risk of violence.

Road safety in Saudi Arabia

Road conditions vary between cities and rural areas; although larger cities have paved and well-constructed roads, surfaces in rural areas are often unpaved. Road safety is potentially one of the greatest safety concerns for expats in Saudi Arabia; traffic accidents are frequent occurrences, aggressive driving and road rage are common, and traffic congestion in Riyadh is an ongoing problem. Expats should drive defensively, and if possible, arrange for a driver who is familiar with the local conditions.

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