Saudi Arabia delays barring men from lingerie shops
RIYADH, May 14 (Reuters) Saudi Arabia has postponed plans to replace male sales assistants in lingerie shops, saying it wants to give outlets more time to prepare for the move which has irritated the influential religious circles.
The government, which wants more women to work as part of its efforts to reduce reliance on foreign labour, took the decision last June and businesses were given a year to prepare for implementation.
''Based on pleas by shop owners ... that they were unable to comply with the deadline, the ministry's decision is postponed until all the required preparations are finalised,'' state news agency SPA quoted the Labour Ministry as saying.
While women in Saudi Arabia are forbidden from mixing with men outside their immediate family in public, they have little alternative to buying their most intimate items of clothing from men.
Many clerics and Islamists in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam which imposes a strict version of Sunni Islam, have opposed the idea as the start of reform process promoted by King Abdullah that they fear will liberalise the stringent system.
A Western diplomat said the move had irritated some of the most influential clerics in kingdom, where women are not allowed to drive and face employment restrictions because of the need to segregate sexes.
''The ministry may very well be honest in its argument (for the postponement). But the facts hint at a setback for the ministry future efforts in integrating Saudi women in the job life,'' the diplomat said.
Labour Minister Ghazi Algosaibi, who is despised by hardline Islamists as a liberal reformer, said plans to allow women to work in other sectors would go ahead, citing a group of government-backed clerics who have approved the reforms.