The shops have not yet opened, but the air-conditioned concourse of a Riyadh shopping mall is crowded anyway — a haven for walkers and joggers grateful for somewhere cool to exercise.

The early-morning crowd includes 55-year-old engineer Mohammed Sultan, in a white T-shirt and black trainers, doing laps around the mall trailed by his niqab-wearing wife.

"It's too hot outside to exercise. The weather here is cold and does not cause thirst," Sultan says, noting that even in October, the end of the hot period in Saudi Arabia, daytime temperatures can still approach 40 degrees Celsius. "Walking in gyms (on a treadmill) is very boring," he adds with a laugh.