King’s visit to China reflects Saudi Arabia’s position globally, experts say

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz (2nd R) takes part in a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (not pictured) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, in this March 16, 2017 photo. (AFP)
Updated 19 March 2017

King’s visit to China reflects Saudi Arabia’s position globally, experts say

RIYADH: The visit of King Salman to China has underscored the important position enjoyed by the Kingdom in the international community, business leaders told local media.
Ahmed Al-Rajihi, board chairman of Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (RCCI), said the king’s visit to China opens a new chapter in Saudi-Chinese strategic relations.
He said the agreements worth nearly $65 billion and signed by the two sides embodies promising future aspects of cooperation between the two countries.
The agreements also constitute one supportive step to the Kingdom’s plans re-build its national economy in a manner that will lessen dependence on oil as a sole income source, within the framework of Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program (2020), he said.
Prince Abdullah bin Miteb bin Abdullah said the king’s visit to Asian countries has enormous importance in view of delicate political and economic conditions witnessed by the region.
The visit is expected to push the Saudi economy to further heights, notably after the signing of a series of economic, trade and investment deals by both sides, he said.
He said the visit comes within the framework of the Kingdom’s keenness to diversify its partnerships with the East Asian countries, and enhance its position as a key and historic bridge between the Asian and African continents.
He praised King Salman’s vision in offering effective solutions for problems facing not only the Islamic world, but also the international community, including extremism and terrorism. He said King Salman’s proposal on terrorism carries hope for a bright future for all countries of the world in order to reach peace and stability.
Ahmed bin Misfir Al-Ghamdi, deputy president of Saudi Telecom Company (STC), said the king’s visit to Asia reflects the Kingdom’s leading role in serving Islam and all people.
The visit reflects the Kingdom’s endeavors to cement Islamic solidarity and encourage the ranks of united Muslims to allow them to enjoy their true position among the world countries thanks to their enormous potentials and resources, he said.
He said the visit has also effectively contributed to support the Saudi leadership’s plans to increase of foreign investments and enhance the role of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and raising its share to the gross domestic product (GDP) from 20 percent to 35 percent.
He stressed the importance of benefiting from the experiences of progressive Asian countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Japan in supporting the growth of the national economy.


Tearing down the wall: Saudi restaurants adjust to the abolishment of gender segregation

Updated 28 January 2020

Tearing down the wall: Saudi restaurants adjust to the abolishment of gender segregation

  • New law urges restaurants to remove segregation in entrance and separate seating arrangements
  • Many restaurants have already begun to implement the law, but others stubbornly refuse

RIYADH: Saudi diners are still chewing over the Kingdom’s move to end the long-standing legal requirement for restaurants to have separate entrances for males and families.

As a result of reforms — involving 103 rules and regulations, manuals, models, and standards aimed at making life easier for citizens and visitors — men and women no longer have to enter restaurants through separate doors.

Naif Al-Otaibi, general manager of public relations and media at the Ministry of Municipal and Rural Affairs, said gender-segregation was now a matter of choice.

“It’s optional. We did not specify the number of entry points, so the investor is free to have multiple entry points and segregate (males from females) in their restaurant,” he told Arab News.

Many restaurants and cafes in Saudi Arabia, including American coffee chain Starbucks, typically have separate sections for families (women on their own or accompanied by men) and males.

The AlShaya Group, operator of Starbucks, The Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang’s among others, has said it will end gender segregation in stores and eateries that were opened before the new rule came into effect.

“We at Alshaya are planning to transform the old stores’ designs following the new desegregation law, but that will take place over the course of the next two years,” the company told Arab News.

An employee at one of Starbucks’ gender-segregated outlets said maintenance contractors had recently conducted an inspection of the site with a view to commencing remodeling work. “They will take out the wall that separates the male area from the families section,” the staff member told Arab News.

“They will also remove the signs at the entry points that say, ‘families’ and ‘males’ and merge the two separate sections.”

Just a few years ago all of this was unthinkable in a very different Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom had a strict policy of not allowing women to dine in a restaurant without a mahram (male guardian). They would be turned away if they did not comply with the rule.

Recalling an incident that happened 20 years ago, “D.K.,” a 37-year-old Saudi woman who wished to remain anonymous, said she found herself inside one of the white vehicles belonging to the religious police whose official job description was the “prevention of vice and promotion of virtue.”

She had been dining with her friends at a McDonald’s restaurant without a mahram.

But D.K. is amazed by the changes that have taken place since, and said the ending of gender segregation in restaurants was a huge step forward for the Kingdom.

She praised King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for advancing women’s empowerment by increasing their employment opportunities, enhancing the quality of their social life and expanding their personal freedoms.

While these steps might seem unimpressive to the average person in the West, cumulatively they were opening up the Kingdom in a big way, D.K. told Arab News, though she admitted that some conservative sections of Saudi society still wished to see the continuation of gender segregation in restaurants.

However, most restaurant owners were eager to move with the changing times.

Al-Amin Mahmoud, a 35-year-old father-of-four from Madinah, takes his family every weekend to a different restaurant. While in Jeddah on a short vacation, he faced a problem when he discovered that some restaurants did not have separate sections for males and families.

“I respect that decision, but I did not feel comfortable. I knew that the decision had been implemented. However, for me, having grown up in a conservative family and society, it does not suit me,” he told Arab News.

Father-of-three Habib Saleh, 41, said that businesses had the option to accept or reject the gender-desegregation decision.

“This is akin to the decision to ban sheesha from restaurants. Many people objected, saying smoking sheesha was the main reason they frequented the restaurants in the first place. Some restaurants who implemented the rule naturally lost regular customers, which affected their revenue,” he added.

Saleh pointed out that when considering applying the new rules, some business owners faced the same dilemma of having to be prepared to lose some customers.

“It will take time before people get used to it. Of course, people will either reject it or be suspicious about it at first. And we have to keep in mind that some of the people who are objecting to this decision do not mind eating in mixed restaurants when they are abroad. So, there is some amount of contradiction. 

“We have to remember that the segregation rule was in force for more than 30 years, so don’t think that people will accept it quickly,” he said.

For his part, Abdulrahman Al-Harbi, an architect, believes implementing the desegregation law will improve the bottom lines of restaurants in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Harbi said not only would managing a restaurant become easier but construction bills would also shrink. “I prefer open spaces. A good designer can provide clever privacy solutions to customers in different ways. 

“If we want to call ourselves a civilized society, we must get used to a mixed-gender environment,” he added.

Abdul Aziz Al-Qahtani, the owner of Bicicleta Coffee Shop in Riyadh, said that since opening a new branch in the capital’s U Walk, only one cashier counter was required.

“We had customers coming in and asking for separate sections, but we have to keep pace with development,” he said. “This change in the law has reduced costs in many areas for us. Now we don’t need two cashiers to serve a family section and a male section.

“We also don’t have to have large spaces any more to be able to divide it up into two sections.”