Authorities in Saudi Arabia have arrested an Egyptian man for appearing in what they have described as an “offensive” video after he was filmed being fed breakfast by a female colleague.
In the 30-second video that sparked outrage in the Gulf kingdom, the pair were seen laughing and joking at a hotel desk in the city of Jeddah before the woman appeared to feed the man some bread.
After the video went viral on Sunday, local media reported that an Egyptian national was arrested and charged with failing to adhere to government regulations that stipulate a gender-segregated workplace.
“The labour ministry arrested an expatriate in Jeddah after he appeared in an offensive video,” the ministry said.
The US government-funded Alhurra TV network later reported that the man could face charges of sexual harassment in the workplace and up to five years in prison.
Acting upon the orders of the authorities, police in Jeddah also questioned the woman who appeared in the video, according to Saudi newspaper al-Riyadh.
Saudi Arabia enforces strict segregation between the sexes in public areas, places of work and restaurants.
Men and women who are not married or close relations must sit separately from each other.
After the video went viral and sparked a torrent of criticism from conservatives, thousands of social media users took to Twitter to defend the Egyptian man, with the Arabic hashtag Egyptian having breakfast with a Saudi woman becoming a trending topic in the kingdom.
Saudi Twitter user Yahya’s tongue-in-cheek comment said:
Translation: Why are you judging them harshly, they’re just “co-workers”.
Twitter user Ghanem alMasarir said:
Translation: He [The Egyptian man] was punished, while the Al Saud princes who embrace women and spend money looted from the people go unpunished.
— غانم الدوسري (@GhanemAlmasarir) September 9, 2018
Meanwhile, Saudi Twitter user Abdullah al-Shahrani accused Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood of being behind the spread of the video.
— عبدالله الشهراني 🇸🇦 (@abdullh2223) September 10, 2018
The incident comes as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been seeking to project his government as a reformist.
Earlier this year he ended a decades-long ban on women driving and allowed women to attend concerts and football matches.
Rights groups have welcomed some of the decisions but called for more comprehensive changes to the kingdom’s “guardianship” system”, which Human Rights Watch describes as the main obstacle to realising women’s rights.