In the past few years, Saudi women have acquired several new rights, including the right to vote in all elections and be elected for political office, the right to access government services such as healthcare and education without a guardian’s consent and more recently the right to drive.
But the Kingdom remains incredibly conservative about inter-sex contact. Most public places, including public transport and offices, are segregated so that women cannot mix with men they do not know.
The rules are particularly strict in restaurants, where women may need to remove the full-face veil with most eateries divided in two sections: one for families — where women are allowed — and one for men dining alone.
Criticism of the two colleagues flew on social media with Twitter user @H_S_Alduhaiyan blasting the Egyptian man for not respecting Saudi Arabia’s “customs, traditions and values.”
The 30-second video shows the two colleagues sitting together at a desk, eating and joking around. The woman is wearing a traditional niqab (full-face veil).
Posted on social media where it quickly went viral, the video drew the ire of many in the ultra-conservative kingdom and the attention of the authorities.
The Ministry of Labor and Development confirmed on Twitter that the man had been arrested. If convicted he faces up to several years in jail.
The owner of the hotel, where the two colleagues are believed to work, was also summoned by authorities, the ministry’s statement said, for not respecting “commitments to the spatial control for working women.”