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In Saudi Arabia's rigid past, religious police once swooped down on rose sellers and anyone peddling red paraphernalia around Valentine's Day, but now a more open -- albeit risky -- dating culture is taking root. Pursuing relationships outside of marriage in the conservative Islamic kingdom once amounted to a death wish, and would-be Romeos resorted to pressing phone numbers up against their car window in hope of making contact with women. Now a sweeping liberalization drive -- which has rendered the religious police toothless and allowed gender mixing like never before -- has made it easier for young couples to meet in cafes and restaurants. Well-heeled millennials also hunt for romantic liaisons via Twitter and Snapchat, and apps such as Swarm -- designed to log places the user visits but often repurposed to look for dates.SEE VIDEO BY TOPIC: SAUDI WOMEN - What The WORLD DOESN'T KNOW 🇸🇦INSIDE SAUDI ARABIA #10
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Meet 3 Saudi Arabian women breaking boundaries in the Kingdom
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — For insight into these head-spinning times in Saudi Arabia, where the ultraconservative social and religious codes that micromanage daily life seem to spring a new leak every month — women driving! Usher and Akon rapping to sold-out crowds! I hope this place get closed permanently. The issue was the decision that made Nabt Fenjan a daring outpost of the new Riyadh: Originally opened only for women , the coffee shop began allowing male and female customers to mix in late Men enter through separate doors and pay in separate lines; women sometimes eat behind partitions to ensure privacy from male strangers.
In early December, however, the government announced that businesses would no longer be required to segregate customers — the latest expansion of the social reforms initiated by the de facto Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Yet Nabt Fenjan was far from the only Saudi establishment to discreetly drop separate sections over the last few years, after the crown prince defanged the religious police , which once enforced conservative social norms.
Nor was it the only place to thrive partly as a result. And, perhaps, with the many Saudis who have studied abroad in cities with single-origin coffee bean fetishes. Notwithstanding Mr. Some women whose families might previously have allowed them to work only in the privacy of offices, if at all, now hold barista jobs.
Saudis can now mingle with the opposite sex not only at home but also at movie theaters, concerts and even wrestling matches. Young entrepreneurs are opening places where Saudis can meet like-minded people of both sexes, whether they are artists, filmmakers or entrepreneurs. The clientele in such coffee shops skews young, reflecting a country where more than two-thirds of the population is under 30 and an unknown proportion is chronically bored.
Bars are barred, concerts and movies just starting to become widely available. Evenings out, therefore, still tend to revolve around food and nonalcoholic drink, the more Instagrammable, the better. For a while, fancy burger joints were everywhere.
Food trucks had a long moment. Social media whetted one frenzy after another. What is becoming acceptable in Riyadh is still dicey in smaller Saudi cities. But the changes are en route. After befriending a woman through social media, Ziyad Abdulrahman, 26, a teaching assistant at an Islamic university in the holy city of Medina, met her in person not long ago at a Riyadh restaurant. It was his first time being alone with a woman in public.
People have changed. Most coffee shops are still gender-segregated. But many have other draws: imported Japanese brewing equipment, Instagrammable tarts and — more intangible, but mandatory nevertheless — good vibes.
Virtually none offer the golden, cardamom-infused Arabic coffee, poured from a curvaceous pot into dainty cups and served to guests with a hillock of dates, that traditionally defined Saudi coffee culture.
Many of the women wore their hair uncovered and their abayas open over jeans and sneakers, styling them more like long, fluid jackets than the traditional all-covering gowns. Still, Riyadh is starchier than Jeddah. It was only after much internal debate that Kanakah, a Riyadh coffee shop that spent three years proudly all-female, reopened last year as a mixed space. Patrons entered through the same door, stood in the same line and ordered from baristas of both sexes. If it was not explicitly forbidden, she figured, she might as well try it.
Alismaeel, 23, who opened Kanakah at 19, with help from her family. The change put off some female customers who preferred the old way. But she was after a larger, more inclusive vision — not only women working alongside men, but also women who wear the niqab, the veil that exposes only the eyes, working alongside women with bare heads.
The changes have unfurled so swiftly that, four months in, she was still not sure whether regulations forbade her from employing female baristas alongside male ones. A municipal health inspector had visited the cafe after a customer complained about the situation, but left them alone.
It can still go the other way. Why am I being fired when I did nothing wrong? The young, too, have their demands. Alismaeel plans to introduce more sustainable and vegan-friendly offerings, addressing another complaint from her online reviews. Just Take a Look at These Coffeehouses. The reaction hurt, Ms. Alismaeel said. Home Page World U.
Meet Saudi Women
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — For insight into these head-spinning times in Saudi Arabia, where the ultraconservative social and religious codes that micromanage daily life seem to spring a new leak every month — women driving! Usher and Akon rapping to sold-out crowds! I hope this place get closed permanently.
In recent years and in light of reforms that have drastically transformed the Kingdom, Saudi Arabian women have been pushing boundaries as more opportunities become readily available. Since then, Saudi Arabia has lifted the ban on female drivers and loosened restrictions on guardianship laws. Raha Moharrak broke the world record for the youngest Arab and the first Saudi woman to climb Mount Everest in To fail is to stop trying.
Saudi Society Is Changing. Just Take a Look at These Coffeehouses.
It took me places. I spent the rest of the year, and the years since, looking for this specific type of music," she said. Five years later, Sufyani was on the other end of the sound system and as Saudi Arabia's first female DJ. She performs under the name Cosmicat. It was the country's first bona-fide pop music festival. Cosmicat pictured in her studio at home in Jeddah. Cosmicat's rise to fame comes as young Saudi women begin to explore careers independent of their families, and as the country adjusts its attitudes to dance music. Women in Saudi Arabia have historically been considered second-class citizens, legally granted only the same rights as children.
Young Saudis Are Starting to Date More Openly— and Very Carefully
Her latest project, The Perfect Candidate , which is available to rent online from today, sees her return to Saudi Arabia at a time when the position of women is — at surface level at least — rapidly changing. Behind the camera, there were significant changes to the filmmaking process too. Al-Mansour not only directed Wadjda at a moment when cinema had been banned for decades, but when men and women were legally required to be segregated in public. To make the earlier film, she avoided negative attention while filming on the streets of Riyadh by hiding in the back of a van. But like Wadjda , The Perfect Candidate is a story of feminine resistance: doctor Maryam accidentally-on-purpose ends up running for office in municipal elections, becoming the first woman to do so and challenging sexist attitudes from men and women alike in the process.
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.SEE VIDEO BY TOPIC: Meet Saudi Arabia's first beauty video blogger