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  • For decades, men and women who were not related were barred from mixing in public spaces in Saudi Arabia.

    For decades, men and women who were not related were barred from mixing in public spaces in Saudi Arabia. | Photo: Reuters

Published 8 December 2019
Opinion

The announcement was officially made Sunday on Twitter by the country’s ministry of municipalities and rural affairs.

Restaurants in Saudi Arabia will no longer need to have one entrance for families and women and another for men, putting thus an end to one of the most rigid social rules in the world, according to the country’s ministry of municipalities and rural affairs, whose spokesman said Sunday that the new rule is not an obligation and that restaurants’ owners can still choose to maintain separate entrances.

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Undersecretary-Designate for Technical Affairs at the Ministry Khaled Al-Jammaz said that the move was part of several amendments including 103 regulations, requirements, manuals, models, standards and applications for activities of all kinds.

The mayor of the holy city of Mecca Mohammed Abdullah Al-Quwaihis told Arab News that the amendments aimed to make life easier for investors, citizens, and entrepreneurs.

“They will be positive and will ease many conditions and restrictions, but they will not affect the core of the work in terms of public health and food, and this decision will increase the flow of investment and the number and variety of restaurants,” he said.

For decades, men and women who were not related have been forbidden from mixing in public spaces as a result of strict social rules enforced by hardline clerics along with the religious police.

However, since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) took power as the de facto ruler in 2017, social restrictions have been eased, partly by arresting clerics.

As a result, sex-based segregation has quietly lowered over the past two years, and eateries, cafes, conference centers, and concert halls stopped strictly applying it.

The kingdom, which is one of the world’s most gender-segregated nations worldwide, has also lifted its ban on women driving and has been gradually removing the guardianship system which requires all of them to have a man relative’s approval for important decisions, though some key restrictions remain.

Yet, social reforms under MBS have been accompanied by increasing repression and abusive practices on dissent and critics, according to various human rights organizations including the Human Rights Watch who released in November a report called “‘The High Cost of Change’: Repression Under Saudi Crown Prince Tarnishes Reforms.”  

The 62-page report documents the ongoing crackdown by Saudi authorities on social and political activists, as dozens of clerics, intellectuals, journalists and activists, including women who had campaigned for some of the freedoms that have lately been granted, were detained and tortured.

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