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SAUDI ARABIA: Women-owned restaurant -- a first -- debuts

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Saudi Arabia this month marked the opening of its first restaurant entirely owned and managed by women, local media reported.

But the establishment of this start-up business in the kingdom’s Eastern Province did not come without complications. The designers of the project had to make sure that there would be no contact whatsoever between the female staff working in the kitchen and the male customers who visit.

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A ‘separation wall’ will isolate the food pickup area from the kitchen to prevent contact between men and the 10 or so women cooking in the kitchen.

Saudi Arabia embraces one of the strictest interpretations of Sunni Islam. Separation between men and women in many public spaces is strictly enforced.

In restaurants, for instance, only men and women related by blood or marriage are allowed to sit at the same table. As in much of the Middle East, eateries and cafes usually have two separate sections: one for families and the other for single men.

The female owner and manager of the new Nourriyat Center for Cooking was hailed by the local press for ‘bravely’ announcing her real name to the public.

According to the Saudi daily Al Yaum, it is the first time that a business appears under the real name of its female owner. The newspaper said that women traditionally used fake names when they opened businesses in the kingdom to avoid social stigmatization.

Noura Moukaytib, owner of the restaurant, told the newspaper that she wanted to challenge ‘those with obstinate minds’ who look down on active women.

In its first phase, the new restaurant will offer only ‘Eastern and Western’ takeaway fast food delivered to customers through a cashier.

Delivery of the orders will be conducted through a window specially designed to prevent men and women from ‘revealing themselves to one another.’

Saudi Arabia has been widely criticized for failing to provide women with employment opportunities. Some human rights organizations and activists qualify the discrimination against women in the country as ‘gender apartheid.’

According to local figures, women in Saudia Arabia make up 70% of students enrolled in universities but just 5% of the kingdom’s workforce.

-- Raed Rafei in Beirut

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