More than one hundred Saudi clerics gathered at the Ministry of Labor to express their objection to the ministry’s policy aiming to provide more work opportunities for women, local news sites reported Saturday.
Users on social media sites circulated pictures and videos showing droves of the clerics, dressed in their red-and-white checkered shmagh and cloaks as they entered the building of the ministry in Riyadh and waited outside the minister’s office.
Sources told Sabq that the clerics were at first denied entry to the ministry headquarters by security, but were later allowed to enter and met briefly with the Minister Adel Fakeih. The site reported that the clerics complained about MOL’s decisions allowing gender mixing in workplaces. Fakeih has reportedly listened to them “for minutes” before excusing himself because, he said, the clerics have shown up without appointment.
With the unemployment rate officially above 10.5, the Saudi government is under high pressure to provide work opportunities for its youth, especially women. Fakieh said last October that there are 1.5 million Saudi nationals looking for work, 80 percent of them are women. 40 percent of those women have college degrees, he added.
But the government push for women employment have faced resistance from religious conservative who warn that the mixing of genders at the workplace would lead to social disintegration and the Westernization of Saudi Arabia. The clerics were recently bolstered by a statement from Abdul-Latif Al Alsheikh, head of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, who criticized MOL for what he described as the minister’s failure to maintain a “good clean environment” for women working at retail stores.
The government dismissed these charges.
“We want to open a whole new world for women, and at the same time will be in tune with our culture with how we’d like our families to continue to be,” Fakeih told the Washington Post. “We don’t want necessarily to copy a Western lifestyle.”