Crime levels in Saudi Arabia are generally low, although there has been an increase in recent years. But there are ways you can stay safe and still enjoy the sights.
Be especially vigilant during the period of Hajj, as there has been a growing incident of pick pocketing, with female pickpockets becoming an increasing phenomenon.
In 2007, 20% of all pickpockets arrested in Makkah were female.
Saudi Arabia has both capital and corporal punishment for a wide variety of offences. Execution via beheading is the punishment for murder, rape, drug trafficking, sodomy, armed robbery, apostasy and certain other offences.
Some of these executions are public affairs, such as in Riyadh where it is carried out in Deera square (known as Chop Chop square by ex-patriates). If you observe a crowd gathering in the area around 9am, it is best to leave quickly or else the Mutaween my push you to the front of the crowd and not let you leave until the beheading is finished. Why this is, remains a mystery, but probably has something to do with the Mutaween wanting to show travellers just how the law operates in Saudi Arabia.
The practice of beheading women also exists, although prior to 1990 women were shot instead. Forty seven women have been beheaded as of 2010, and Saudi Arabia executed 1,750 convicts between 1985 and 2008, with most of the executions taking place in Riyadh, Jeddah, and Dahran.
Oddly, Saudi executioners take great pride in the work and it tends to be handed down from one generation to the next along family lines.
Private Saudi citizens have been know to harass and in extreme cases physically assault travellers whom they felt were not observing high enough standards of conservative behaviour. This is a country in which to be on your best behaviour.
The border region between Saudi Arabia and Yemen is currently regarded as hostile, and should be avoided.
Saudi authorities are currently concerned about an increased threat of terrorism in Saudi Arabia, and in the period from December 2009 to December 2010, 765 people were convicted for involvement in terrorist activities, so don't be mistaken they don't take threats, even ones which were meant to be jokes, lightly.
Still, the places where westerners (mostly ex-patriots) are known to congregate are considered possible targets, so you'll find tight security.
You should take care when you're near embassies, international organisations and businesses as well as residential compounds and hotels. Also areas where foreigners are known to work or play such as clubs, open air markers, pedestrian areas, schools, places of worship, restaurants, sporting events, outdoor recreation facilities, transport infrastructure, and general resort or tourist areas.
Anything connected with the oil industry should also be considered a potential terrorist target, and this includes all oil installations and infrastructure including pipelines and truck depots.
Buildings, institutions and symbols associate with the Saudi Arabian government in generally and security forces in particular should also be considered a potential terrorist target.
There's not a lot you can do if you have need to be near these places or institutions, except be aware of your surroundings and be prepared for the unexpected.
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