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

Tearing down the wall: Saudi restaurants adjust to the abolition of gender segregation
Segregation boards, such as this one pictured in a McDonald’s restaurant in Riyadh in 2004, are no longer required under Saudi law. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 28 January 2020

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

Tearing down the wall: Saudi restaurants adjust to the abolition 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.”


Saudi Arabia reopens King Fahd Causeway for travelers to and from Bahrain

Saudi Arabia reopens King Fahd Causeway for travelers to and from Bahrain
Updated 16 May 2021

Saudi Arabia reopens King Fahd Causeway for travelers to and from Bahrain

Saudi Arabia reopens King Fahd Causeway for travelers to and from Bahrain
  • Travel suspension for citizens, and the opening of land, sea and air ports would be lifted starting Sunday
  • A coronavirus insurance certificate is required for travelers below 18 years

DUBAI: Hundreds of thousands of daily travelers between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain through the King Fahd Causeway may once again access the border crossing when travel restrictions are lifted on Sunday, May 17.
Residents shuttle between the two countries via King Fahd Causeway, but the travel artery was closed on March 8, 2020, because of COVID-19 safety precautions.
Travel suspension for citizens, and the opening of land, sea and air ports would be lifted starting Sunday, state news agency SPA reported.
An additional 10 lanes were installed to the departure area, bringing the total to 27 lanes, in addition to 36 lanes in the arrival area, Duwaihi Al-Sahli, director of King Fahd Causeway Passports, was quoted by the report as saying.
However, only those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or those who have recovered from the disease would be allowed to leave the Kingdom, authorities. They would be required to present proof via the Tawakkalna app installed in their mobile phones.
A coronavirus insurance certificate is required for travelers below 18 years.
For travelers heading from Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, they will be required to carry any of the health applications approved in the GCC countries, which confirm whether they are vaccinated or have recovered from the virus, Bahrain’s news agency BNA reported.
They can also present PCR certificates which should not exceed 72 hours from the time of taking the sample, BNA added.
Jordan meanwhile said that exemptions previously announced for passengers’ entry through the Omari border post with Saudi Arabia have been canceled effective on Monday.
The decision was made after a series of measures were taken recently to help ease the entry of Jordanians and visitors from Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf countries, state news agency Petra reported, citing Interior Minister Mazen Al-Faraya.
Border regulations previously required the presentation of a certificate proving they received two coronavirus vaccine doses and a negative PCR test 72 hours prior.
Travelers can now pass without registering on the platform or having a PCR test on the border, the report said.


Taif closes popular park after increase in visitors during Eid

Taif closes popular park after  increase in visitors during Eid
Updated 16 May 2021

Taif closes popular park after increase in visitors during Eid

Taif closes popular park after  increase in visitors during Eid

TAIF: Taif municipality closed Al-Ruddaf Park after an increase in the number of visitors in order to limit the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Earlier, a joint committee closed two other parks in Taif that neglected to properly implement precautionary measures.

Meanwhile, the Eastern Province municipality carried out 1,192 inspection tours and 12 other joint tours with relevant authorities, in markets, commercial centers and retail stores.

The tours resulted in the closure of 17 establishments found to be in violation of preventative measures in place to prevent the spread of the disease.

The municipality confirmed that it would continue its intensive monitoring tours and awareness-raising campaigns at commercial and food establishments in the markets.

INNUMBERS

432,269 - total COVID-19 cases in Saudi Arabia

416,759 - total recoveries

7,147 - total deaths

It is also ensuring that the protocols are applied inside stores, especially in barbershops and women’s beauty centers.

It called on everyone to cooperate and report violations through the complaints call center 940.

Jeddah carried out 7,356 inspection tours of commercial centers and facilities and identified 323 violations for issues related to overcrowding and the failure to effectively use the Tawakkalna app. Authorities have shut down 92 commercial outlets for breaching COVID-19 protocols.

Saudi Arabia reported 13 more COVID-19-related deaths on Saturday. The death toll now stands at 7,147. The Ministry of Health reported 837 new cases, raising the number of people who have now contracted the disease to 432,269, with 8,363 active cases, 1,331 of which are in critical condition.

According to the ministry, 290 of the newly recorded cases were in Riyadh, 240 in Makkah, 97 in the Eastern Province and 55 in Madinah. In addition, 1,012 patients have recovered from the disease, bringing the total number of recoveries to 416,759.

Saudi Arabia has so far conducted 17,916,457 PCR tests, with 47,586 carried out in the past 24 hours.

Saudis and expatriates in the Kingdom continue to receive their COVID-19 jabs, with 11,400,807 people inoculated so far.


Saudi Arabia leads Arab action in UN to highlight Palestine violence

Saudi Arabia leads Arab action in UN to highlight Palestine violence
Updated 16 May 2021

Saudi Arabia leads Arab action in UN to highlight Palestine violence

Saudi Arabia leads Arab action in UN to highlight Palestine violence
  • Saudi envoy urges world community to protect civilians

NEW YORK: Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative to the UN in New York, Abdallah Al-Mouallami, has met the permanent Chinese delegation to the UN in his capacity as president of the Security Council for this month, as the Kingdom leads Arab action on Palestine.

The Arab small group meetings aim to provide information in the Security Council about the Israeli attacks against Palestinians, especially recent ones so that the international community can carry out its duties to protect civilians.

The meeting was attended by Faisal Al-Haqbani, the special political committee’s official from Saudi Arabia’s permanent delegation to the UN.

Al-Mouallami also met the president of the UN General Assembly, Volkan Bozkır, as the Kingdom leads an Islamic movement for Palestine. The meetings of the Islamic Group with the president of the General Assembly aim to shed light on the recent Israeli attacks to urge the international community to protect civilians.

Saudi Arabia has always been the first to support the Palestinian cause in the UN and before the international community.

On Friday, the Saudi foreign minister spoke to the Palestinian Authority’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Riyad Al-Maliki on the phone. During the call, Prince Faisal bin Farhan affirmed the Kingdom’s condemnation of illegal practices carried out by Israeli authorities, and the need to immediately stop the country’s escalatory actions that violate all international norms and conventions.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation in Jerusalem and Gaza, at the request of Saudi Arabia.

The meeting between foreign ministers of OIC member nations will address continuing Israeli attacks in the Palestinian territories.


Saudis pack their bags and prepare for bumpy takeoff

Saudis pack their bags and prepare for bumpy takeoff
Updated 16 May 2021

Saudis pack their bags and prepare for bumpy takeoff

Saudis pack their bags and prepare for bumpy takeoff
  • Coronavirus restrictions in some countries have restricted Saudi travelers’ options

JEDDAH: With summer knocking on our doors, Saudi travelers will head to the Kingdom’s airports for their first international journeys in over a year — but many face challenges ahead.

After more than 14 months of international flight bans, Saudis are ready to don their blue disposable face masks and use up their air miles on May 17.

Almost 11.5 million residents of the Kingdom have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine jab and more than 400,000 recoveries have been reported by the Saudi health ministry, which means almost 12 million Saudis are now allowed to cross borders to neighboring countries or travel further.

While some Saudis have restricted their holiday or business destinations to the safest areas due to COVID-19 protocols, many are undeterred by the challenges ahead and can’t wait to fasten their seatbelts.

Planning a holiday in the coming months will be far from easy — choices are limited and quarantine measures are in place in a number of destinations that are popular for summer holidays. However, many tourists are still willing to travel and face the music. 

In the wake of the global pandemic, both countries and individual travelers are wary of restrictions. But even with a massive vaccine rollout in place, and authorities easing travel abroad for those who have been vaccinated and those who have recovered from the illness, many Saudis are opting to head closer to home. 

“As soon as we heard that Bahrain is allowing Saudis in without the need to quarantine, we raced to book our hotel and tickets, but they were fully booked for the first week,” said 34-year old Maha Al-Hussain from Riyadh.

“My family and I had the good fortune to visit Jeddah every now and then, but we’d like a holiday for the children to roam free and swim all day, so everyone can just take a break.”

My family and I have been searching for a new and different place to travel to for a few days now and my father was adamant that we do so especially since we’re all vaccinated.

Kholoud Yousef

The mother of three told Arab News that although it is hard to book flights for seven people at the moment, the family decided to make the four-hour drive to Bahrain and hope for a smooth entry at the King Fahd Causeway. 

“All of the adults are vaccinated and our children know the rules by now,” she said. “We went through hardships as did everyone this year. The trip is important for us all and we’ve been extra careful through it all. We’ll continue being careful until we’re back home again.”

Earlier, Bahrain announced that all GCC visitors who are fully vaccinated or recovered are no longer required to undergo a PCR test on arrival but must show evidence of vaccination or recovery. 

For Saudis, a little more care and attention is given, with a welcome back campaign launched by the neighboring island kingdom featuring the slogan “walahna alaikom,” or “we’ve missed you.”

While the state of travel to the 20 countries on the list remains in place, airlines are ready to operate normally to many cities across the world, although a number of countries are limiting arrivals. 

Several EU member states have limited arrivals from outside the EU, while others are allowing visitors back but with restrictions. 

On Friday, Greek Ambassador to the Kingdom Alexis Konstantoloulos announced that Saudis wishing to travel to Greece will be able to do so with a negative PCR test or vaccination certification and on completion of a passenger location form.

FASTFACTS

Saudis permitted to travel abroad: • Saudis who have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

• Saudis who have received one dose of COVID-19 vaccine no less than 14 days before the flight.

• Citizens who recovered from COVID-19 at least six months before the flight.

“Welcome back to our Saudi friends, Greece is expecting you,” he tweeted.

Pre-travel PCR tests conducted no more than 72-48 hours before arrival, travel insurance, five to 10 days of quarantine on arrival at the traveler’s expense and post-arrival PCR tests are among the requirements a number EU member states are requesting, but the numbers are limited as many countries are restricting nonessential travel. 

The UK, a favorite destination for many Saudis, will require self-isolation on arrival as Saudi Arabia remains in its amber category. The list will be reviewed every three weeks, according to UK officials.

Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea, Australia, Russia, Spain, Poland, Vietnam, Czech Republic and Belgium are among countries still suspending international tourist arrivals.

Citizens are urged to review travel restrictions for each destination as each country requires a different set of requirements before traveling and on arrival.

“Dubai is next,” said 32-year-old PR director Yousef A. “I’ve visited Dubai many times in the past few years and it has become something of a second home for my family and I,” he told Arab News.

“I did my homework. Saudi Arabia is on the UAE’s safe ‘green list’ and no quarantine is required. As soon as the Saudi authorities allow it, that will be my next destination.” 

The search for relaxed COVID-19 restrictions has been continuing for weeks after news was confirmed that the Kingdom’s travel ban would be lifted on May 17, but it is a struggle, as 27-year-old Kholoud Yousef explained to Arab News.

“We initially planned on traveling to Bali during the first week after the ban was lifted, but when we heard we’d have to quarantine for five days and take two PCR tests, we realized it would take a good chunk out of our holiday time and we don’t want to be holed up in our hotel rooms,” she told Arab News.

“My family and I have been searching for a new and different place to travel to for a few days now and my father was adamant that we do so especially since we’re all vaccinated. 

We’re putting Bali on hold for now and heading to Morocco next week, and it was an easy choice. All we needed was a confirmed hotel reservation. It feels good to know that we can travel again. Hopefully, this is going to be one great trip.”


Al-Ahsa’s fabled pottery industry stands test of time

Al-Ahsa’s fabled pottery industry stands test of time
Updated 16 May 2021

Al-Ahsa’s fabled pottery industry stands test of time

Al-Ahsa’s fabled pottery industry stands test of time
  • Among the most prominent pottery site in Al-Ahsa is Dogha Al-Gharash, located west of Al-Qarah Mountain

AL-AHSA: Al-Ahsa’s pottery markets and factories, which have operated for centuries, see a surge in business during the holy month of Ramadan. Many Saudis buy pottery products to prepare and decorate their Ramadan and Eid tables, as part of local customs and traditions.

Pottery vessels have a range of shapes and uses, including utensil and food containers, pots for preserving and cooling water, and antiques for decorating tables, including incense burners, vases and piggy banks. These are considered part of local heritage and folklore across the Kingdom.

Among the most prominent pottery site in Al-Ahsa is Dogha Al-Gharash, located west of Al-Qarah Mountain. This factory was founded more than 150 years ago and has become one of the main tourist and heritage sites in the region.

The chief craftsman in Al-Ahsa, Wassil Ali Al-Gharash, who supervises the factory, said that the pottery market during Ramadan sees “remarkable activity” in terms of manufacturing and sales.

“This is because of its uses and forms that overlap and suit Ramadan and Eid tables, in addition to the special aesthetic atmosphere that pottery adds, bringing back memories of past decades,” he added.

Al-Gharash said that pottery, a technique that has been honed for millennia in the Arabian Gulf, involves several steps. The first is the choosing of appropriate clay, the main material, which is then cleaned and formed.

Clay is then used to shape a vessel by hand or through molds and pottery wheels. The shaped clay is then left in a suitable place to dry. In the final step, the shaped clay is cooked in special ovens, thus becoming a high-quality product ready for sale and use.

Al-Gharash said that pottery is an art that requires patience, accuracy, skill and an experienced hand with a special touch.

Hassan Ali Al-Shomali, a young pottery maker, said that clay used in pottery vessels is sourced from Al-Qarah Mountain and its surroundings, and is of three types: Red, green and yellow, all of which are mixed in certain proportions with water to form a paste.

He added that pottery has preserved its place in households due to its many advantages, including low costs and its ability to bear heat when used to cook foods.

The pottery industry remains one of the most important parts of Al-Ahsa’s allure. A segment of the local community has managed to maintain a robust handmade pottery market despite modern developments in manufacturing and production.

Pottery producers also receive the attention and care of authorities concerned with preserving heritage, legacies, and social traditions as well as supporting professions and folk crafts.