If you are living in Saudi Arabia, you can now attend concerts by international artists, something which would have been unimaginable a year ago. But ever since a new crown prince came to power in Saudi Arabia in June 2017, he has been working with authorities to loosen restrictions around leisure activities. That said, authorities don’t want things to get too out of hand. So, at these new concerts, men and women have to sit in different sections and are banned from… dancing.

Imagine going to a concert of your favorite band, having to refrain from dancing to your favourite songs. That’s what Saudi men and women have to deal with.

On March 30, 2018, famed Egyptian singer Tamer Hosny will perform in Jeddah, a city in the west of the country. However, concert goers who had pre-ordered tickets noticed something strange written on them – that “dancing or shimmying” are strictly forbidden.

On Twitter, people reacted with both amusement and indignation to this ban. Some worried about the vibe of the concert if no one can dance, while others pondered how authorities were planning to identify and punish dancers.

"Exclusive images of Tamer Hosni’s concert in Jeddah after the ban on dancing,” jokes this Twitter user, who posted images of the ticket proclaiming the dance ban and a video of a "mannequin challenge" (a challenge where people freeze during the video) filmed during a concert.

The dance ban is far from the only rule and regulation that will be enforced at this concert. This sign at a ticket sales counter clearly states, among other things, that men and women will have to sit separately.

  1. the Tamer Hosny concert: maximum sale of three tickets per person, no entry for persons under the age of 12, men and women will sit in separate seating areas, no smoking, appropriate attire required, no eating inside the venue and tickets cannot be returned or refunded,” reads a sign in a Virgin music store.

In spite of all these bans, the concert will likely take place in front of a full house: most of the seats were already reserved by March 7. The price for tickets ranged from 330 rials (around 70 euros) to 1,475 rials (320 euros).

Recent liberalisation

In the past few months, several concerts were held in Saudi Arabia – a real revolution as, up until now, concerts were banned. Lebanese singer Hiba Tawaji, Greek composer Yanni, ‘Oriental pop’ singer Mohammed Abdo and American rapper Nelly have all performed, but only in front of single-gender crowds. Tawaji, for example, performed in front of an all-women crowd, while the male artists only performed for men.

The first co-ed festivities in Saudi Arabia occurred on September 23, 2017 to mark the Saudi national holiday. On that night, men and women danced together in the middle of the street, sparking condemnation from the more conservative fringe of society.

A crowd of young women hurry into a Virgin music store to get tickets to see Tamer Hosny. (Video posted on Twitter on March 4, 2018).

This recent liberalisation is the work of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as "MBS", who launched the Vision 2030 project with the aim of “modernising” the Saudi kingdom. Middle East specialist Stéphane Lacroix says that the project aims to transform Saudi Arabia into a consumer society and recover the billions of dollars spent each year by Saudis on leisure and entertainment abroad.