January 21, 2008 / 12:44 PM / 12 years ago

Saudi Arabia eases rules for women in hotels

A woman is wheeled into the Grand Mosque as a new hotel is being built in Mecca June 28, 2005. REUTERS/Zainal Abd Halim

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi authorities, breaking with religious codes that require women to be accompanied by a male guardian, have decided to allow women to stay in hotels on their own, a newspaper reported on Monday.

A royal decree allowed the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to lay down new regulations simply requiring women to show personal identification including a photograph, which hotel managers must register with local police, al-Watan said.

Tribal custom and hardline religious strictures limit women’s movement in the conservative Islamic state, the only country in the world where women are forbidden from driving.

Saudi women can face harassment from the religious police if they are not accompanied in public areas by a male relative who acts as her “guardian”. The rules are less strictly enforced for foreigners and in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s most liberal city.

The paper said the rules, set out in last month’s decree, were worked out in coordination with the Ministry of the Interior and the religious police organization, two bodies who rights activists say stand in the way of improved women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

Concern over the country’s image abroad and a desire to integrate women into the national economy have driven liberal voices within government to advance more freedoms for women.

King Abdullah has said he supports reforms, including lifting the driving ban, but only when “society” accepts it.

A Saudi delegation faced tough questioning before a panel of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in Geneva last week.

Reporting by Andrew Hammond; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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