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Photography Ban Lifted in Saudi Arabia

The decades-long ban on photographing and filming in public places was lifted recently in Saudi Arabia.

Specifically the new ruling allows photographing and filming for all citizens and residents in public places. No such ban has ever been in place for photographing or filming in private settings.

Although the stated intent of the new ruling references the desert Kingdom's on-going push to increase secular tourism, the wording does not directly include non-residents or tourists, and the implementation of the ruling is still to be tested.

Even with these newest freedoms on photographing and filming in the Kingdom, however, taking pictures continues to be a tricky proposition in Saudi Arabia. Many places remain off-limits to those with cameras or filming gear, including military installations, security personnel, government buildings and petroleum facilities - even when those places are in the deep background of shots.

And photographing people - especially local women - is still not allowed without direct permission, even in public settings. The traditional culture and beliefs of many Saudi Arabians include a deep commitment to privacy and modesty. In addition, some religious scholars contend depicting human images is forbidden in Islam which adds further weight to the prohibition.

Saudi Arabia offers photographers and film-makers an amazing variety of subjects - from towering sand dunes deep in the Rub Al-Khali to ancient archeological sites and the endless blue of the Arabian Gulf. And thanks to new ruling, the number of possible subjects just continues to grow.

Lori Olson White is an American expat writer and author living and working in Saudi Arabia. Her blog offers insights into life in the Middle East while her ezine gives travel tips and advice to tourists traveling to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain.