A recent decree by Saudi Arabian lawmakers has once again drawn ridicule and ire from the local and global stages. This time, the conservative theocratic kingdom banned dancing. At a pop concert.
The ban on dancing – or even swaying to the music – is just one of several bizarre rules that targeted fans of Egyptian singer Tamer Hosny who attended his concert in Jeddah on 30 March. It appears that dancing evokes the anger and mistrust of religious ultra-conservatives, and a blanket ban on it was deemed necessary.
Spoilsports: Strange Concert Rules
The ban on dancing at the pop concert was the rule that drew the most attention from international commentators that included the media, human rights groups, and individuals. Among the other joyless rules foisted upon concertgoers were forced gender segregation, and a prohibition on children under the age of 12 attending the concert.
Furthermore, all those attending the concert were instructed to wear modest clothes. Despite rules that seem designed to prevent people from having any fun other than being able to take in a performance alongside other fans, the concert sold out.
No Laughing Matter
As ludicrous as these restrictive pop concert rules might seem to an audience beyond the borders of the Middle Eastern kingdom, they are no laughing matter to locals. Saudi Arabia is home to Islam’s most sacred sites, and is ruled by the house of Saud.
While King Salman and crown prince Mohammed bin Salman are trying to further modernise the kingdom, its clerics maintain a tight grip on the daily lives of its citizens. One way in which this happens is through the work of the so-called morality police, who ensure the rules and regulations based on sharia law are enforced. Failure to comply can result in arrests, imprisonment, public flogging, mutilation, and even death.
However, the citizens of Saudi Arabia are growing more emboldened. The anonymity offered by the Internet, as well as the ease of accessing it via mobile devices, has enabled Saudis to express their displeasure at being treated like stupid children by an overbearing nanny kingdom.
No time was wasted in criticising and mocking the rules aimed at Hosny’s March concert. Jokes were made about sway detectors, and one commentator wryly tweeted that asking concertgoers to not dance was like asking ice to not melt in the sun.
But You Can Bet On Camels
For all its heavy-handed moralising, the kingdom appears to have turned a blind eye to an activity that has been regarded as a vice by most of the world’s major religions: gambling. Yes, while women have only slightly more rights than farm animals, and concertgoers cannot dance or sway, Saudis are allowed to bet real money on camel and horse races.
They can place bets at the tracks where the races take place, or they can log on to online bookmakers, where they can also play various casino games. At least they have that going for them. That, and the fact that women can now drive and work in certain jobs. You can’t stop progress.
Other Strange Saudi Laws
The legal situation in Saudi Arabia is not all gloom and doom. Despite the joyless grip of the clerics and their morality police, the king is slowly ushering in innovation. For example, the kingdom’s women recently received the right to be able to drive.
Unfortunately, those same women are still subject to numerous other laws that, to the rest of the world, might seem completely bizarre. Saudi women may not get married without permission from their guardians. In the case of a woman who wants to marry a foreigner, permission must first be obtained from the Ministry of the Interior, and that permission is not likely to be granted if that foreigner is not Muslim.
The movement of Saudi women is also severely limited. Not only may they not leave their houses unaccompanied, they also cannot apply for either identification cards or passports without the permission of their guardian. A guardian’s permission is also required if a woman wants to open a bank account and control her own finances, or if she needs medical attention – even if the situation is a matter of life and death. Not dancing at a pop concert then seems to pale in comparison!