SAUDI ARABIA

Saudis pay allegiance to their 'cardboard king'

Following the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, two videos have emerged showing Saudis pledging allegiance to their new ruler – by shaking hands with cardboard cutouts of King Salman and the two heirs to the throne. Actors standing behind the life-sized cutouts extend their arms to shake hands with visitors.

Advertising

Following the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, two videos have emerged showing Saudis pledging allegiance to their new ruler – by shaking hands with cardboard cutouts of King Salman and the two heirs to the throne. Actors standing behind the life-sized cutouts extend their arms to shake hands with visitors.

Saudi men shake hands with cardboard cutouts of King Salman, Saudi Arabia's new king.

Of course, it wouldn't be possible for the kingdom's new king to shake hands with everyone who wanted to pledge allegiance. So the cardboard cutouts are the next-best solution. The ritual is part of an Islamic custom known as the bay'ah – a traditional oath of allegiance given to a leader. In the video, they also "shake hands" with cardboard cutouts of Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz and Prince Mohammed bin Nayef – the first and second in line to the throne, respectively. Muqrin is the youngest surviving son of Saudi Arabia's founder, Ibn Saud.

"In Saudi Arabia, there is a culture of trying to win favor with the authorities"

Saleh Alamer is a translator who lives in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.

This way of paying allegiance goes way back in history, when society was small and when it was practical and possible for people to meet their leaders. Nowadays, obviously when you have populations of 20 million people, it’s impossible. Not everyone in the population can ‘pledge allegiance’. I saw both clips. This happened in two schools – one was a girls' school and another was male. In Saudi Arabia, there is a culture of trying to win favor with the authorities. I’m not discounting that there are genuine people out there who have strong feelings towards paying allegiance to the new king. But these two clips are one of the ways to win favor. It’s possible the head teachers came up with this.

Former King Abdullah died almost two weeks ago after suffering a lung infection. He had ruled the kingdom since 2005.

Saudi girls shake hands with a cardboard cutout of late King Abdullah.