Riyadh eases ban on single men in shopping malls

RIYADH, Mar 22, 2012 (AFP) - Single men in Riyadh will be able to visit shopping malls during peak hours after a Saudi prince eased restrictions aimed at stopping harassment of women, media reports said Thursday.
Prince Sattam bin Abdulaziz, Riyadh's governor, has decided "not to prevent any single men from visiting malls" in the capital on evenings and weekends, when malls are most crowded, Al-Riyadh newspaper reported.
The decision was made by a committee made up of local officials and representatives from the feared religious police, said the daily.
Shopping malls are a favourite leisure destination for young men and women in the ultra-conservative kingdom, where cinemas and theatres are banned.
Previously, single men were only allowed into shopping centres at lunch time on weekdays, a move the authorities said was intended to prevent women being harassed during peak hours.
But that had "many negative consequences, including the gathering of men outside the shopping malls and harassing women" there, the daily reported, according to the committee.
Saudi Arabia imposes a strict segregation-of-sexes policy.
The appointment of Sheikh Abdullatif Abdel Aziz al-Sheikh, a moderate, to head the Saudi religious police has raised hopes a more lenient force will ease draconian social constraints, including the prohibition of mixing between sexes.