SAUDI ARABIA

Jeddah party-goers arrested by Saudi police

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The video shows young people dancing, laughing and drinking alcohol on top of a building. Young women in Western-styled clothing laugh as dance music plays in the background. What’s surprising about this video, which was posted on YouTube on December 20, is that this raucous party took place in Jeddah, a city in the ultra-conservative country Saudi Arabia. And when the video started circulating online, the Saudi religious police were not amused.

Both alcohol and mixed parties (with both men and women in attendance) are banned in Saudi Arabia, which is a country governed by strict morality laws. The video was quickly discovered by the police, and soon after, the host’s home was identified because of a well-known tower that can be seen in the video. The Jordanian man who hosted the party was arrested when he tried to flee the country. A Lebanese woman and her friends who were guests at the party were also arrested. The muttawa, the Saudi religious police, said they were searching for the other guests.

These kind of arrests are common in Saudi Arabia. In June 2014, police in Jeddah raided a mixed graduation party and arrested 16 young people.

Jeddah is a coastal city with a reputation for being more liberal than others. It is known for parties featuring alcohol taking place behind closed doors. These exclusive events are only open to two kinds of elites: ultra-rich Saudi princes and Westerners, who can get alcohol that is shipped in through diplomatic or military channels and so doesn't have to go through customs. A blog that details expat life in Saudi Arabia says that alcohol - either illegally produced on site or smuggled in - flows in abundance in these kinds of social circles.

En 2010, the website WikiLeaks published an American diplomatic cable that unveiled the party culture going on behind locked doors in Jeddah.

“Behind the facade of Wahhabi conservatism in the streets, the underground nightlife for Jeddah's elite youth is thriving and throbbing. The full range of worldly temptations and vices are available -- alcohol, drugs, sex -- but strictly behind closed doors [...] Over the past few years, the increased conservatism of Saudi Arabia's external society has pushed the nightlife and party scene in Jeddah even further underground,” wrote the American Consul General Martin R. Quinn.