Saudi Arabia has launched an investigation after five samba dancers performed on the streets of Jizan at a state-run festival, seemingly in defiance of the authoritarian state’s own strict Islamic dress code for women.
Video footage showing female dancers with bare legs and torsos dancing through a crowd went viral, prompting an investigation by the authorities.
The images of female dancers in costumes caused an online outcry in ultraconservative Saudi Arabian circles for showing the women flouting Saudi Arabia’s strict dress code for women.
Despite some liberalisations in recent years, such as relaxing the ban on women driving in 2018, Saudi Arabia is still ruled by a strict, Wahhabist interpretation of Islamic law.
Women are required to wear a black, floor-length gown called the abaya while out in public.
“This exemplified what I called #WhiskyWahhabi,” tweeted Ali Al-Ahmed, a prominent Saudi dissident based in the US. “I coined this term to show how [the] Saudi monarchy is banning celebration of Prophet Mohamed’s birthday on religious grounds but doing this.”
Prince Muhammad bin Nasser bin Abdulaziz, the ruler of the southwestern region, said he had launched an inquiry into the incident.
“His Highness the Emir of Jazan region has directed a quick investigation into the participation of a dance troupe in downtown events in Jizan Winter Festival, and to take the necessary measures to prevent any abuses and produce the results of the investigation,” a statement on an official Twitter account of the Jizan region said.
The dancers were a part of the state-funded Jizan Winter festival, held on 6-7 January, to promote tourism in the port city in the oil-reliant kingdom as part of plans by its de facto ruler, Mohammed Bin Salman, to diversify the economy.
As well as introducing more liberal laws, he has announced the launch of a modern city called Neom, billed as the “first cognitive and smart city”, that will create a hub on the Red Sea coast.