By Omar El Okeily
Riyadh — The opening of a new shopping mall or a central market in a city is usually an occasion for celebration for most sectors of society. People will usually celebrate these new retail outlets where one can walk, sit, relax, visit various restaurants that in turn usually make good use of the large number of shoppers. However, young Saudi men, unlike other sectors of society such as children and young women, cannot celebrate new shopping malls and are largely indifferent to their existence. The main reason for this is that they are prevented from entering the malls by the orders of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice or by the mall’s administration that usually conforms to the orders of that authority.
Saleh, Fahd, and Abdullah, all in their twenties, gather daily in one of Riyadh’s coffee shops to smoke Shisha (water pipe). Fahd told Asharq Al-Awsat, “Why would we celebrate the opening of these malls if we have no right to enter them or to shop in them? Even though I am married, I have not been free from harassment when I enter the malls with my wife, not harassment from other young men but from those who interfere as my wife and I being a young couple, like to hold hands.” Saleh supported Fahd’s opinion when he said, “As young men, we cannot even buy a gift for our mothers or sisters from these malls that are the only places where the best products are available. I could not take my mother or my sister with me to buy her a gift, as this does not quite have the same effect. The beauty of the gift is when it comes as a surprise.” Abdullah also added that he is not a great admirer of malls and has never visited them. However, he stressed that he could understand the frustration of those young men who enjoyed walking and sitting in crowded places such as malls, which is no longer allowed.
These days, young men talk of a new large mall opening soon in Riyadh. However, unfortunately like other malls they will not be allowed to enter except under certain conditions. They will not even be allowed within close vicinity of the new mall. Fahd further said, “As full time employees we cannot go to the malls. We need time to shop and look around for the best merchandise. At the weekends we are usually more relaxed as we have had more sleep and are free from the burdens of work; but we can not enter the malls as usual.”
The problem of the preventing single males from entering the malls has deteriorated over the past few years, especially as demands of young men to enter the malls increased after several new malls were opened in Riyadh. However, they were only permitted entrance between Saturdays and Wednesdays, while in some malls they are only allowed in on Wednesday mornings.
Asharq al-Awsat spoke to a few young men in front of one of the malls. Waleed, 18 years old, told us about new ways that he had concocted to enter these malls despite the new rules. He explained that, “At the times of prayers, the men of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice order the shopkeepers to close their shops and go the mosque which is usually situated on the ground floor of the mall or next to the mall. My friends and I go to the mosque and hide, slipping in between the hundreds of shopkeepers who return to the mall to re-open their shops after prayers. We enter amongst the crowd.”
Waleed told us of a difficult situation that he found himself in. “I once asked a young man who had come to one of the malls with his family (young men with their families are admitted) to help me get in to the mall. The young man who appreciated my request allowed me to walk with him and his family until we reached the doors of the mall. As we were entering, however, the security guard who had seen me before asked the young man about me. As the young man was telling the guard that I was with the family, his old mother pointed to me and said, “My son, who is this boy?” I was caught and kicked out immediately.”