Restaurants in Saudi Arabia will no longer need to maintain entrances segregated by sex, authorities have said, in a move upending a major hallmark of conservative restrictions that had been in place for decades.
Previously, Saudi Arabia required all restaurants to have one entrance for families and women, and another for men on their own. Unrelated men and women have for decades been barred from mixing in public places in the country.
The Ministry of Municipalities and Rural Affairs announced on Twitter on Sunday this would no longer be mandatory.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) has eased other restrictions in recent months, including bans on women driving and public entertainment.
Segregation in restaurants has quietly eased over the past year or so, as eateries, cafes, conference centres and concert halls stopped strictly enforcing it.
Changes not compulsory
A spokesman for the ministry contacted by the Reuters News Agency did not specify whether segregated seating areas inside restaurants would also be eliminated. The new rules are not compulsory, meaning restaurants could still maintain separate entrances if owners choose to do so, he said.
There was no announcement of changes to other public establishments, such as schools and hospitals, which appear likely to remain segregated for now.
Growing social openness in Saudi Arabia has been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent that has seen the arrests of dozens of religious leaders, intellectuals and activists, including women who had campaigned for some of the freedoms that have lately been granted.
It has also raised concerns about a possible backlash by conservatives, though there has so far been little concrete pushback.
The crown prince, 34, is the heir to the Saudi throne and de facto ruler. If and when he replaces his father, King Salman, he would be the first Saudi monarch from a new generation after a succession of six brothers that have ruled since 1953.
MBS’s reputation in the West suffered after the murder of United States-based Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed by Saudi agents last year inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.