Saudi Arabia Country Report
The elevation of Mohammed bin Salman to crown prince in 2017 centralises political, economic, and security decision-making. The monarchy’s priorities are to contain an Islamic State insurgency, ensure the clerical establishment remains supportive, and deliver economic growth while undertaking economic and social reforms of Saudi society. Should the monarchy’s ability to distribute patronage become seriously constrained or, more critically, should ongoing cuts in state spending affecting public-sector workers not yield real improvements in earnings, the risk of a serious threat to state stability emerging would grow sharply. The Islamic State campaign has progressed to more ambitious attacks on security force targets. Successful attacks on strategic assets remainunlikely.
Saudi bureaucracy can be slow-moving and cumbersome, and investors are likely to face corruption-related challenges and lack of transparency. Although foreign companies no longer need a local partner, in practice these partners usually facilitate business. Market entry, navigating bureaucratic procedures, and compliance with government regulations are expedited if a partnership is struck with a senior royal or members of a small group of powerful clans. Such associations reduce operational delays, particularly in gaining customs clearance, obtaining foreign labour visas, making and receiving payments, performing general renewals, and completing licensing procedures.
The Islamic State is seeking to demonstrate the Saudi state's inability to protect its own people or guarantee security, exacerbate social divisions, test security measures, and demoralise security forces. The Islamic State has already progressed to more sophisticated and lethal attacks on harder targets that require more extended surveillance, planning, and co-ordination. In addition to attacks on security forces and Shia targets, the risk of attacks on princes, pro-government clerics, government officials, and religious sites is growing, as is the risk of mass-casualty attacks involving a small number of armed suicide bombers on venues considered "un-Islamic".
There is a low but rising risk of interstate conflict in the Gulf. Iranian awareness of the scale and qualitative superiority of the US deterrent maritime presence in the Gulf mitigates the risk of deliberate escalation by Iran leading to interstate war, but Saudi Arabia may calculate in the coming three years that it can draw the US to its side in a conflict. Saudi compromise in Yemen concerning the Iranian-backed Houthi Movement is highly unlikely. Saudi military action against Qatar is very unlikely without a breakdown in Qatari-US relations.
A contained low-level insurgency around Awamiya in Eastern province's Qatif region will persist in 2018, although this is unlikely to promote broadening support or civil unrest among the Shia minority elsewhere in Eastern province. Beyond 2018, if public spending restrictions constrain the monarchy's ability to distribute patronage, or if the government fails to deliver on promises to improve services and address housing shortages and youth unemployment, larger and more frequent protests, including in universities, would become more likely.
Vaccinations required to enter the country
Proof of vaccination against yellow fever is required if traveling from a country with risk of yellow fever (YFV) transmission and over one year of age and for travelers who have been in transit >12 hours in an airport located in a country with risk of YFV transmission.
Hepatitis A: A vaccine is available for anyone over one year of age. The vaccine may not be effective for certain people, e.g. those born before 1945 and who lived as a child in a developing country and/or have a past history of jaundice (icterus). These people can instead get a shot of immune globulin (IG) to boost their immunity against the disease.
Hepatitis B: A vaccine is available for children at least two months old.
Diphtheria-Tetanus-Polio: A booster shot should be administered if necessary (once every ten years).
Typhoid Fever: If your travels take you to regions with poor sanitary conditions (for children two years old and up).
Rabies: For prolonged stays in an isolated region (for children from when they can walk).
Malaria: Recommended preventive medication (for a trip to the south or the west of the country only) - mefloquine (sometimes marketed as Lariam) or doxycycline (sometimes marketed as Vibramycin).
For Children: All standard childhood immunizations should be up-to-date. In the case of a long stay, the BCG vaccine is recommended for children over one month and the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine for children over nine months.
Foreign visitors should be aware that Saudi Arabia's weather can reach extremes during certain seasons. Temperatures sometimes climb to 50°C (122°F) or higher and power outages often occur during heat waves, particularly in the west. Flooding is common in the northern and western parts of the country, particularly between November and March.
Sand and dust storms often occur in the country and can disrupt road and air traffic.
All flights to and from Qatar have been suspended since June 2017 until further notice, and the Saudi-Qatari land border is closed. Saudi Arabia (along with Egypt, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates) has also severed diplomatic ties with Qatar due to accusations that the country was funding terrorist organizations in the region.
The UK government has banned passengers flying direct to the United Kingdom from Saudi Arabia from transporting any electronic device larger than a standard-sized smartphone (16 cm x 9.3 cm x 1.5 cm / 6.3 in x 3.5 in x 0.6 in) in carry-on luggage. This includes laptops, tablets, e-readers, cameras, DVD players, and video games, which will have to be stowed in checked luggage for the duration of the flight. A similar ban previously instated for flights to the United States was lifted in July 2017.
Foreigners should be aware that travel by car within Saudi Arabia can be dangerous. Reckless driving causes a high number of road accidents and hundreds of deaths each year.
Public transportation systems are being developed in the country but are not yet operational. However, buses connect major cities.
By law, taxis must be booked in advance, even at the airport. Most taxi drivers do not speak English. Women are not permitted to ride in a taxi alone or with someone from the opposite sex other than her family or husband. However, authorities are usually accommodating for foreigners.
The railway network consists of one line linking Riyadh and Dammam. Five trips, each taking four to five hours each, are available daily. Women traveling on their own can only do so in first class.
Saudi Arabia's climate is arid all year long. Summers are very hot and dry, winters mild along the coasts and cooler inland. A rainy season (albeit with low levels of rainfall) lasts from October to April along the western coastal plains. In the center of the country (Nedj) nights are cool and days are scorching. The north and the south of the country is desert.
Voltage: 127/220 V ~ 60 Hz