Several statues representing "demonic" creatures were destroyed during a festival held earlier this week in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. The statues were specially installed for the festival, but the whole affair-- as well as other aspects of the festival -- have all sparked controversy online.
Since October 15, social media users in Saudi Arabia have been sharing a series of strange videos showing giant statues of monstrous creatures having their heads knocked off.
These statues were specially installed for the Riyadh Season Festival, which is one of 11 different festivals that make up Saudi Seasons. Riyadh Season, which kicked off on October 11, is meant to celebrate “entertainment and culture” and is mostly aimed at foreign tourists. A number of international artists were invited to participate.
According to the person who filmed this video, the giant creatures were destroyed in the middle of a main street in the centre of the Saudi capital, where they had previously been on display.
Both statues and festival submerged in controversy
The videos showing the destruction of the statues sparked a lot of conversation and controversy online.
One person echoed a popular sentiment when he decried the “squandering of the resources of the kingdom for frivolous festivals that incite debauchery”. Other social media users, however, praised the destruction of “idols” [a term used to describe statues representing deities worshipped by pre-Islamic people in Saudi Arabia].
Other people criticized the festival organizer, Turki Al-Sheikh, claiming that he designed the festival for foreign tourists and neglected the interests of Saudis. Al-Sheikh is the current chairman of the General Authority for Entertainment and was also promoted to the role of adviser at the Royal Court in 2017. Like Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Al-Sheikh wants to shake off old stereotypes of the Kingdom and promote a more liberal image.
However, quite a few internet users criticized the festival’s mixed-gender crowd and said that festival organizers were prioritizing “foreign practices over the Saudi, Muslim culture” by, for example, organizing concerts next to mosques. Many Saudis are suspicious of this sudden move to open up society, especially as they are used to a government that has long policed even the tiniest aspects of both the public and private lives of its citizens.
A tightly regulated festival
The organisers of Saudi Seasons actually have a strict charter governing the festival and its participants. It includes bans on certain behaviors and corresponding fines for infractions. For example, the fine for “sexualised behavior” could surpass 6,000 Saudi riyals [approximately 1,400 euros]. The festival also employed so-called “agents of good taste” who intervene when they determine an inappropriate behavior. One young woman was arrested for the “moral infraction” of dancing while wearing a niqab.