The authorities of Saudi Arabia have 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.
It was reported that 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.
Saudi Arabia’s population of 27 million includes some 8 million expatriates, including Asians, Arabs, and Westerners, according to government figures.
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 Saudi rights advocate Waleed Aboul Khair believes 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.” He is facing trial for “tarnishing the kingdom’s reputation,” mostly by his political activism for women’s rights and other issues.