REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Single men in ultraconservative Saudi Arabia will be allowed to enter shopping centers in the Saudi capital in the evenings and on weekends if they don't "misbehave with women shoppers and follow security regulations" after a Saudi prince ended a ban, according to local media reports.
Prince Sattam bin Abdul Aziz, the emir of the Riyadh region, made the decision on the recommendation of a special committee comprised of local security officials and representatives from the kingdom's religious police, the Saudi Gazette reported.
Saudi Arabia applies rigid rules of gender segregation. Previously, single men were allowed to enter shopping centers and malls only during lunchtime on weekdays in a bid to curb harassment against women.
According to a report in the Saudi Al Riyadh daily, Sattam decided "not to prevent any single men from visiting malls" in Riyadh during peak hours on evenings and on weekends -- times when Saudi shoppers tend to fill up shopping centers. It was not immediately clear whether the same rule will come to apply to other areas in the country.
Single men were prohibited from entering centers at peak times to avoid rowdy scenes, reported the Saudi Gazette on Friday. But the special committee discovered that the ban at times backfired, with large groups of men gathering outside the malls and harassing women and shoppers.
It was not clear who originally imposed the ban or when. The head of the religious police, locally known as the Hai'a, said his agency was not responsible and suggested mall managers were instead the ones to blame.
“The Hai’a has never ever issued any directives or orders to prevent single men from entering malls or restricting their movements in any way," Abdullatif Aal Sheikh was quoted as saying in the Saudi Gazette. “It should also be understood that the Hai’a does not have anything in its system that bans young men from entering such facilities. In fact, the management of some malls and shopping centers are the ones which prevent the entry of bachelors or ask the Hai’a to do so."
Saudi Arabia, a country adhering to the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam, bans cinemas and theaters, thus making shopping malls a popular hangout for young Saudi men and women.
Photo: In this file photo Saudi women hang out at a mall in Riyadh. A Saudi prince has decided that single Saudi men can now go to malls during the evenings and weekends if they don't "misbehave with women shoppers and follow security regulations." Credit: Jamal Nasrallah / European Pressphoto Agency.