Discrepancies towards reports on various political reforms in Saudi Arabia appears to have caught the eye of some concerned individuals, as it appears a Saudi body may have backtracked on some parts of the initiative, such as gender segregation in public spaces and ending store closures in prayer-time.
The aforementioned “call” was elaborated by Okaz, an Arabic-language publication. It noted that the Quality of Life programme as being set by Saudi Arabia hopes to improve various aspects of Saudi lifestyle and culture, including the aforementioned practices needing a form of “immediate change” should they want to get better investor confidence and an increase in public participation.
The article, which was released last May 4, was then removed. Reuters managed to see a copy of the document the Okaz report cited, although another version of the same document in official channels had no mention of store closures and gender segregation among the list of reforms under the Quality of Life programme. There was a notable lack of a timetable as well.
Quality of Life chief executive Loai Bafaqeeh appears to refuse commenting on the discrepancy that has been put to light. Bafaqeeh told Reuters via phone call on May 5 that the Quality of Life programme is looking into “all things” related to the resident and citizen, which includes women driving and families in sports stadiums.
Changing Traditions, Paradigm Shift
It can be remembered that Saudi Arabia as a nation has been known to have imposed quite a wide variety of strict social rules for its citizens, including bans on mixing unrelated women and men, music, and alcohol. Much of these are now changing courtesy of policies from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman which, through his moves, has now started a wave of economic and social reforms.
Part of this is notably the reopening of Saudi cinemas last April after almost four (4) decades of being banned to the public. Other policies set to change include banning women from driving, which is now allowed albeit with a male guardian.
It can be noted that much of the rules imposed on Saudi Arabia are not based on a legal code that encompasses all aspects of life, as they still mainly depend on Islamic sharia law. It’s also the judiciary and police that dictate and enforce prohibitions to the public. As such, analysts conclude there is no legal basis for the enforcement of things such as segregation and store closures.
Likewise, while the religious police are still patrolling some public spaces, they are no longer harassing people for gender segregation or for being on streets when it’s time for prayer. It can be noted that a lot of Saudis, especially those in major cities, have welcomed such limits on the religious police’s authority.
Reforms of the Crown Prince also now make some restaurants be more open to unrelated women and men entering their family sections, and public events are now being held without such a segregation. Some stores still close for half an hour during various times of the day for prayer, though some also still allow customers to stay and shop inside.
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