Saudi Arabia: Religious conservatives create setback for Saudi musicians



Saudi Arabia:
Religious conservatives create setback for Saudi musicians

A last-minute cancellation of the Jeddah Film Festival was only one of several reversals for proponents of freer access to film and music in Saudi Arabia, reported AFP, Reuters and BBC News on 19 July 2009

Saudi Arabia’s religious establishment appears to have drawn a line in the sand over public cinema and music, backed by official Islamic fatwas.

“Music and all other elements of distraction are considered evil,” says one posting on the government fatwa website.

The setbacks have dimmed the hopes of Saudis who saw an opening for reforms and freedom of musical expression after relatively progressive King Abdullah took the throne in 2005. They were encouraged when he purged the government of a number of conservative clerics earlier in 2009.

AFP reported the following setbacks:

For the first time in years the official summer festival in Asir will not have music concerts, either of traditional performers like Abdo or imported popstars from Egypt or Lebanon.

In May 2009 a French embassy-sponsored concert by operatic soprano Isabelle Poulenard, performing with a female accompanist to a women-only audience in Riyadh, was forbidden just two days before the date after gaining full permissions. The concert finally went ahead following an apparent high-level skirmish between religious and other officials, said a person associated with the event.

In early July 2009 a concert billed as ‘Midnight Acoustic’ inside a Riyadh housing compound for foreigners — normally insulated from the strict Saudi cultural rules — was shut down halfway through when the religious police arrived at the compound’s gates. Half the 500-strong audience were Saudis, according to one person who attended.

Performs in exile
Scores of rock, hip hop and heavy metal groups can only perform at private parties in their country, and the irony is that most Saudis are exposed to the free-wheeling entertainment culture outside their borders. They travel abroad liberally to Bahrain, Dubai, Egypt and Lebanon to attend films and concerts.

Saudi Arabia’s most famous entertainer, Mohammed Abdo, for instance, plays the oud, sings, and recites classical poetry in sold-out concerts around the Arab world, but he cannot give a normal public performance in Saudi Arabia.

“When Mohammed Abdo performs in Cairo or Beirut, the audience is mostly Saudis,” said a music industry figure. At home too, they get it all on television and video. Mazen Hayek, marketing director for leading regional satellite broadcaster MBC, says Saudis gobble up their fare of popular western and Arabic series, films, and music shows, none of which are tailored for Saudi mores.

Saudi Arabia


AFP – 19 July 2009:

‘Saudis reel as clerics say movie show must stop’

BBC News – 20 July 2009:

‘No happy ending for Saudi film festival’

Google News – continously updated:

Search: ‘Saudi’

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