Saudi Arabia 'will not end gender segregation' in public spaces
Saudi authorities have backtracked on plans to end gender segregation in public places and mandatory prayer-time closures for businesses as a part of a sweeping modernisation drive.
Saudi Arabia on Thursday launched a project, dubbed "Quality of Life Program 2020," designed to turn the deeply conservative kingdom into an entertainment hub.
A document handed out to journalists that outlined the programme called for lobbying to legalise gender mixing and allow shops to open during prayers.
The items were removed from versions posted online later.
Pro-government Sabq news website on Saturday denied that authorities had ever called for the divisive reforms, citing "informed sources".
Local daily Okaz reported that both practices required "immediate change" to boost participation in the programme's activities before it removed the report.
Saudi Arabia has for decades imposed strict social rules, including bans on the mixing of unrelated men and women and shops opening during prayer-times.
US film star Katie Holmes and British actor Idris Elba rubbed shoulders with Saudi officials, as the kingdom on Thursday night kicked off the initiative to invest 130 billion riyals ($34.7 billion) in culture and leisure by 2020.
Key projects include 16 entertainment complexes, an aquatic centre and three other huge leisure hubs - all part of a bid to ensure three Saudi cities make it into the global top 100 for quality of life.
The government will pump 50.9 billion riyals into this cultural revolution, while courting private investors and foreign partners for the rest of the investment.
The investment programme feeds into a drive by powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to modernise his homeland, both in terms of liberalising Saudi society and reducing the economy's overwhelming dependence on oil.
The initiative aims to create 300,000 new jobs and represents a key pillar of the nation's "Vision 2030" reforms.