Saudi authorities have arrested an Arab man who appeared in video having breakfast with a female work colleague.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Development said the man was arrested for appearing in an “offensive video” and cited violations of rules including those “regulating women’s placement at work.”
Local news platform SaudiNews50 said Tuesday that the woman was arrested as well. CNN couldn’t confirm her arrest.
Authorities did not reveal their nationalities. The man speaks in an Egyptian dialect in the video and it was not clear if the woman was Saudi.
“The labor ministry arrested an expatriate in Jeddah after he appeared in an offensive video,” said the ministry’s statement, which was published on Sunday. Local media identified the man as Egyptian, saying that the video was shot in the lobby of the hotel where both the man and woman work.
“Come have breakfast with us,” the man, identified in the local media reports by a single name, Bahaa, says during the video. The video also shows the woman feeding him a piece of food.
The video went viral, eliciting a backlash from conservatives in the kingdom, where public space is generally gender-segregated.
The labor ministry said it arrested the man in the “offensive video” with a woman at the reception area of a Jeddah hotel. The man is also accused of “working in a profession reserved for Saudis,” the ministry said without explaining the nature of the job.
Their employer was summoned and is accused of violating rules regulating women’s placement at work, the ministry added.
The highly religious kingdom has strict laws defining how unrelated men and women can dine together.
Public space in Saudi Arabia is traditionally segregated — restaurants usually separate space dedicated to families from men’s. Married couples usually carry an official proof of marriage in case they are stopped while walking together.
The coastal city of Jeddah, where the man and the woman were arrested, has numerous upscale cafés and restaurants that don’t enforce segregation.
The Saudi public prosecutor’s office posted a warning on Twitter that foreigners working in the Kingdom should “respect Saudi values, traditions, and feelings.”
The following day, it released another statement warning that people face up to five years in prison for producing, posting online, sending or saving materials that “violate public order, religious values, public morality, or the sanctity of personal life.”
Elsewhere in the Islamic world, a part of the sharia state of Aceh in Indonesia is following suit with a request for restaurants and cafes to ban unmarried — or unrelated — male and female customers from sitting at the same table together, local media reports.
“The circular was meant to keep the relationship between men and women in Bireuen in line with sharia rather than oppress them, so they won’t get caught violating (the Islamic criminal code),” Bireuen regency administration sharia agency head Jufliwan told The Jakarta Post.
Not enough change
Saudi Arabia has been encouraging women to join the workforce and has relaxed some of its strictest regulations on women and social life — including allowing women to drive and attend football games in stadiums.
The arrest is at odds with the much-touted reform efforts of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman — known almost universally as MBS — which seemed to be progressing with the Kingdom’s lifting of a ban on women driving, but took a U-turn with the May arrest of at least 11 women activists.
Activists opposed to the Crown Prince have said that the crackdown has “exposed the myth” of the reform agenda.
Prior to bin Salman’s rapid rise to power in recent years, Saudi Arabia’s largely fundamentalist clergy held considerable sway over policy-making in the kingdom.
The arrest of some prominent clerics in recent months, in addition to a series of moves that consolidated the Crown Prince’s grip on decision-making, helped to clip the clergy’s influence.
Over the past year, Saudi Arabia opened its first cinema in decades and loosened several morality laws that discriminate against women, including its notorious rules requiring that women have a male guardian’s permission to travel, receive an education and sometimes work and receive healthcare.
Foreigners often fall foul of strict Islamic laws in the Middle East. Recently a Swedish woman who lives in the UK, Ellie Holman, was detained in Dubai after she drank a glass of wine on a flight en route to the Emirate.
According to United Arab Emirates civil and criminal justice specialists Detained in Dubai, which was assisting Holman, she drank a complimentary glass of wine on board a London-originating flight with Dubai-flagged carrier Emirates and, upon arrival, was detained with her 4-year-old daughter for three days, and only released when the Emirate’s government declined to pursue charges.
In 2013 state media The National warned that “tourists are left in a legal grey area, and while most will leave the country in blissful ignorance that they have broken the law, legal experts warn events can turn sour in a heartbeat for the unlucky few.”
Following Holman’s detention, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office reiterated to travelers that it “it is a punishable offense under UAE law to drink or be under the influence of alcohol in public.”