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Both women spoke on the condition that only their first names be used.Hassnaa al-Kenyeer, a writer on women’s issues who lives in Riyadh, said the empowerment of women is partly responsible for the popularity of online dating and the apparent rise in physical encounters that can result from it.Women have made gradual yet significant advances in education and workforce participation, even though they are still forbidden from driving and require permission from a male guardian to do such things as obtain a passport and travel abroad.

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It would appear that there is no such thing as dating in Saudi-Arabia.There are no movie theaters, restaurants and cafe’s are segregated by gender and single men are denied entry into malls and even parks.Ahmad al-Ghamdi, a former chief of the religious police in the city of Mecca, said the force feels threatened by social media because “it makes it harder to supervise people.” He said he resigned from his position in protest of abuses committed by members of the religious police, which is tasked with enforcing Islamic law.Many Saudis say the religious police have increasingly resorted to sting operations, blackmail and beatings in public.She said that also has made the role of traditional matchmakers less important.

In the era of social networks, traditional matchmaking can seem superfluous to young Saudis such as Muhammad, 25, a resident of Riyadh who works at a government agency.

Saudi Arabia goes to notorious lengths to prevent unsanctioned romance.

So citizens of this conservative kingdom are increasingly turning to social-media networks to pursue relationships and plan forbidden rendezvous, people here say.

Dima has taken particular interest in one of them, who has invited her for a ride in his vehicle.

But she expressed anxiety over what could happen if she did.

Her friend Sarah, an 18-year-old university classmate, encouraged her to consider it.