Saudis want US, GCC to thwart Iranian designs

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Updated 22 April 2016

Saudis want US, GCC to thwart Iranian designs

RIYADH: Members of the Shoura Council, business leaders and experts have called on the US and Gulf states to work together to undermine Iranian efforts to destabilize the Middle East.

They have also urged the US to formulate and adopt a fair Middle East policy, exert more efforts to settle the problems in war-torn Syria and Yemen, and join hands to boost counterterrorism cooperation.
Members of the Shoura Council expressed hopes that the talks of US President Barack Obama with Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, and his meeting with GCC leaders on Thursday will go a long way in strengthening ties. Mona A. Al-Mushait, a Shoura member, said that “Saudi Arabia’s relationship with the US has had strong foundations based on mutual respect, shared interests and cooperation.”
Al-Mushait said that “both countries recognize the significance of regional stability and counterterrorism.” “President Obama’s visit to the Kingdom is very important in many respects: First of all, in combating terrorism; secondly, pushing for justice and solutions to the Yemeni and Syrian crisis,” she added. “Moreover, Iranian intervention in the affairs of Arab countries and its support for terrorism needs to be addressed on priority,” said the Shoura member.
She also advocated the need for “deeper cooperation through expanding Saudi engagement with the US in the fields of trade and the economy.”
Al-Mushait noted that almost 150,000 students and their families currently live in the US, promoting greater understanding between our two peoples. “I foresee golden opportunities for the two countries to work closely following the Kingdom’s transformation that shows more optimism and hope,” she observed.
Referring to the decades-old ties between the Kingdom and the US, another Shoura member, Hoda Al-Helaissi, said that the “Saudi-US relation has been a valuable and model relationship … but it has also had its hiccups, especially during the last few years … President Obama’s visit to the Kingdom is important on many levels, especially on political and economic fronts,” said Al-Helaissi, who is also the vice chairperson of the Shoura’s Foreign Affairs Committee.
Referring to the talks with GCC leaders, she said, “I believe that both sides will benefit from this visit and hopefully it will pave the way to finding appropriate solutions to the crises in the region.”
She further said that the two parties “need to keep the channels of dialogue open, if we are to promote understanding and tolerance, fight negative media portrayal and expose the true image of Islam.”
Referring to the high-profile GCC-EU summit scheduled for Thursday, Saleh Al-Khathlan, a professor of political science at Riyadh-based King Saud University (KSU), said that “the fact that this summit comes few months before the end of Obama’s presidency means that GCC countries shouldn’t put much expectation on it … It is a well-known fact that US presidents at the end of their terms tend to avoid taking any foreign policy initiative that has any value,” he added.
Al-Khathlan advised the Gulf states to focus on the post-Obama administration from now and follow very closely the campaigns of the potential presidential candidates to know how they would deal with the region once in office. “In the meantime, there should be no worries that the US will carry on with its historical commitments to the security of the Gulf,” said the academic.
He said that “Washington had no alternatives than to commit to the region for the stability of oil flow and big arms market GCC countries offer.”
“Saudi officials need also to go beyond this summit and consider explaining the new foreign policy that has been implemented since 2015,” he said. This policy took the whole world by surprise, he said.
Referring to Saudi foreign policy, Al-Khathlan said that American and Western officials have been used to a Saudi policy that is “quite peace-oriented and risk-free.” “Now, these have all changed and observers keep wondering as to why this change of external behavior and where it is going to take the Kingdom,” quipped the professor. “So, there is need for a lot of effort to explain the new Saudi policy and reassure the allies,” he observed.
Commenting on the visit of Obama from US perspectives, Thomas H. Nelson, a renowned American attorney, told Arab News that “it is my strongest hope that President Obama’s visit to Riyadh and his talks with King Salman will place Saudi-US relations back on track.” “For years, the two countries have supported one another in this critical region of the world to their mutual benefit and to the benefit of many, many third parties,” said Nelson, via e-mail from the US. He said that “the threats facing the Middle East are more intense and great as they never have been in the past, and the possibility of further destabilization must be avoided at all costs.”
“I think this can best be achieved by cordial relations based upon mutual appreciation and respect,” said Nelson, who has been involved in human rights and transnational consulting.
On the business front, the US is a close ally of the Kingdom and the GCC besides being the largest partner, said Abdulrahman Al-Zamil, chief of the Council of Saudi Chambers (CSC). He said that the strained relations will hamper commercial ties. Al-Zamil urges the US to adopt a fair Middle East policy that can contribute to peace and security in the region.
He said that the Iranian policy of meddling in the affairs of the Gulf states must be checked to restore peace in the region.

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.”