Saudi Arabia deserves title of ‘Humanitarian Kingdom’

Updated 22 July 2016

Saudi Arabia deserves title of ‘Humanitarian Kingdom’

RIYADH: Yemen is the top recipient of Saudi aid at the international level, thanks to the benevolent policy of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, says a report.
The annual report by the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center said the Red Crescent and Red Cross have declared the Kingdom as the world leader in supporting humanitarian and relief work.
It said Saudi Arabia deserves the title of Humanitarian Kingdom in view of its initiatives and the magnitude of its donations and assistance to peoples afflicted by wars and natural disasters.
“Humanitarian projects consistently undertaken by the Kingdom are in line with the teachings of our religion, which commands us to provide relief to the needy and to help them, and the directives of King Salman,” said Abdullah Al-Rabeeah, supervisor general of the center.
"We have received such directives since the establishment of this center, giving Yemen and its people great care and working to ease their sufferings," said Al-Rabeeah.
"Our efforts to restore legitimacy, peace and order in Yemen only prove the peace-loving nature of the Kingdom. The Kingdom always stood by the people of Yemen, caring about its security and stability," he added. Al-Rabeeah said the center signed an agreement with five private hospitals in Aden to treat injured Yemenis for free.
Moreover, the center supports 61 health facilities across Yemen, directly or through the WHO and UNICEF, he said.
Notably, the center implemented more than 20 medical assistance programs from which 15,982,060 Yemenis benefited.
These programs included the provision of more than 823 tons of medicines and medical requisites and the equipment for hospitals and health centers in collaboration with more than 12 regional and international organizations at a cost of $89,673,236.
Moreover, 35,000 Yemenis are beneficiaries in the Kingdom, 532 in Jordan and 320 in Sudan. Medical reports on injured Yemeni patients show that beneficiaries were treated by the center for burns, wounds, paralysis, fractures, loss of body parts and psychological trauma.
In addition to providing health services, the center carried out numerous relief and welfare programs, to the tune of $416 million, during the last year, from which more than 62 million Yemenis benefited. The center also carried out 29 emergency relief programs in Yemen, benefiting 17.7 million people, and more than 600,000 people benefited from the food security program in Yemen, which was implemented in the provinces of Dhale, Lahij, Maarib, Shabwah, Hadhramout, Ibb and Al-Jawf.
Moreover, the Kingdom granted temporary work permits to Yemenis and launched an online education program for one million Yemeni students in Yemen and other countries.
The launch of the annual report was attended by the Yemeni minister of local administration, Abdulraguib Fatih, and Nasser Ba’oom, minister of public health and population and member of the higher committee for relief in Yemen.
Both attending Yemeni ministers lauded the Kingdom’s role, particularly the center’s, in supporting distressed Yemenis.
Expressing his sincere thanks, Fatih said: “The King Salman Center provided and continues to offer much-needed respite to the sufferings of the Yemeni people. The humanitarian assistance is serving as an ointment for our wounds.”
Ba’oom praised the center’s rapid response to help distressed Yemenis, including responding to the High Committee for Relief to support hospitals that help ease the suffering of Yemeni citizens.

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.”