Customs and traditions
Saudi Arabia is extremely conservative
socially. Islam permeates society and daily life.
Official injunctions govern people's everyday lives with
rules of dress, intercourse between the sexes and times
of prayer. Moral police monitor compliance with the
rules. Saudi men and women live strictly separated from
their own homes.
Men greet each other by taking care. It is fun to
greet the oldest person in the company first and then go
counterclockwise and greet the rest. The common greeting
phrase is " al-salam alaykum " (Peace be
Overview of the capital city of Saudi Arabia, including information about its population, economy, geography, history and map.
Saudis who know each other well - and are of the same
sex - often go arm in arm or hand in hand, and touch
each other during conversations. In public places one
should avoid eye contact with people in the crowd.
Staring at strangers is considered inappropriate. For
foreign women, it is wise to avoid handshakes with men
unless they are initiated by a Saudi.
Small talk has an important social function, even in
a business context. It can be perceived as impolite to
be in a hurry or to abruptly change the topic of
conversation. The ideal is a low-key style - one should
not speak too loudly or gesticulate much.
If you are invited to someone's home you should
arrive on time and dress formally, as for a business
meeting, unless otherwise stated. If you are sitting
with crossed legs you should remember that it is
important not to show the soles of your feet. It is
particularly bad to point to another person with the
soles of your feet. It is also considered pointless to
point your hand at someone.
A guest is usually offered tea or coffee, or food. It
is unfair to say no.
Only the right hand is used for eating and drinking,
and for handing over or receiving objects. The left hand
is considered unclean. By leaving some food on the
plate, you show that you have had enough.
The kitchen is reminiscent of what is found in other
countries in the Middle East. It is not strikingly
spicy. Muslim rules are strictly followed: pork is not
eaten and slaughter is performed according to current
rituals. Alcohol is also prohibited and does not occur
in public settings. Some exceptions exist for
Lamb and rice are something of a national dish.
Chicken is also common. Flat, unleavened bread is
included in almost all meals, as is fresh fruit. Dates,
both fresh and candied, are especially common. You like
to drink strong and hot coffee, often seasoned with
According to tradition, a sheep, a goat or a camel
would be slaughtered when a guest came to visit. It
sometimes happens even today, though it is now common
practice to settle for a chicken. Often, cooked meat
dishes are also served instead of whole animals. At big
festivities, such as weddings or other family
gatherings, it is still common to get slaughtered.
Traditional clothing dominates in Saudi Arabia. Men
usually wear a foot-white white cotton shirt
called thwab / thaub or dishdasha. The
headgear, ghutra (or kufiyya), is a
large piece of fabric that is folded and held in place
using a black band made of camel hair, iqal / agal.
Women wear a similar tunic with loose pants
underneath. In public places, they are expected to be
fully covered and then have an abaya, an outer
garment that is usually black and covers the entire body
except the face. It is complemented by a nikab
that covers the face except the eyes. Bedouin women
often wear very ornate clothes and many handmade silver
Foreign women visiting should also dress
conservatively, in thick clothing. Headscarf is not
necessarily mandatory but can be a way to show respect.
Men should also dress relatively conservatively.
In accordance with the Wahhabite
interpretation of Islam (see Religion), only two
religious holidays are officially recognized. They are
id al-fitr, the weekend ending the fasting
month of ramadan, and the sacrificial holiday id al-adha.
The celebration of other Muslim holidays is tolerated if
it happens locally and on a small scale. Among them is
the Prophet Muhammad's birthday mawlid al-nabi
and ashura, which is an important feast for the
Shiite Muslim minority. The religious holidays fall on
different dates from year to year, as they follow the
Muslim lunar calendar, which is eleven days shorter than
the year according to modern Western times.
Non-religious celebrations are not allowed, except
for September 23 when celebrating the reign of the
Hard grip on activists is criticized
A report from Amnesty International criticizes Saudi
Arabia's rulers for stubbornly attacking democracy
activists following the revolutions in the Arab world
during the year. Thousands are said to have been
arrested without prosecution and without trial. Others
have been sentenced to long prison sentences for
demanding political and social reforms. It is mainly
Shia Muslims from the eastern part of the country who
have been subjected to severe reprisals by the
Prince Salman's new Deputy Prime Minister
Prince Salman - brother of Nayef - is appointed new
Deputy Prime Minister after Nayef and Minister of
Defense after Sultan (see October 2011).
Crown Prince Sultan dies and succeeds Nayif
On October 22, it is announced that Crown Prince
Sultan has died. The 78-year-old Nayef (see
March 2009) is appointed Crown Prince
a few days later.
Local elections are held for the second time
The elections to the municipal councils are the
second time that political elections are held in Saudi
Arabia. The turnout is low and only men are allowed to
vote. Half of the seats are directly appointed by King
Public protest actions are prohibited
Despite the new injunction, smaller demonstrations
are taking place, among Shiite Muslims in the east and
in Riyadh, demanding political prisoners to be released.
Arab Spring gives imprints
The wave of protests in North Africa also echoes in
Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah raises public servants'
wages to curb dissatisfaction. A group of activists say
they have formed a political party, the first in the
country. Initiators will be arrested soon.