Saudi Arabia: Music video and government initiatives split society

3 March 2017
A music video entitled ‘Hwages’ featuring a trio of veiled female artists in Saudi Arabia has not only gone viral, but has also divided the country.
Photo: Screen shot from ‘Hwages’ video/8ies Productions


A music video entitled ‘Hwages’, which loosely translates to “concerns”, featuring a trio of veiled female artists with colourful clothing underneath, playing together and singing about the oppression women face in Saudi Arabia has not only gone viral, but has also divided the country, reported The Independent on 5 January 2017.

The women, while they are shown playing basketball, skateboarding and riding in bumper cars, sing lyrics such as: “May men be eradicated as they cause us to have mental illnesses; may they all go crazy, they seem to be possessed.”

Saudis on social media have called the video “disgusting” and “extremely inappropriate”, but many have also praised the video for breaking stereotypes and helping to empower women in the country, reported The Sun on 4 January 2017.

The video, which was released on 23 December 2016, has over 9.2 million views as of the writing of this article.

» Click here to watch the ‘Hwages’ music video and to learn more about women artists in Saudi

Concerts and cinemas corrupt
Meanwhile, Saudi Mufti Abdel Aziz Bin Abdulla Al Sheikh, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, has denounced a decision by the government-affiliated Entertainment Organisation to grant permits for music concerts and to establish the country’s first movie theatre, reported France24 on 14 January 2017.

Al Sheikh warned the organisation “not to open the doors to evil”, saying that “no good can come from music concerts” and that “cinemas allow men and women to mingle – a move that would violate public morality”, reported Saudi online news source SABQ on 16 January 2017.

“Concerts and cinemas corrupt the public,” Al Sheikh said. “Cinemas might screen films with sexually explicit content, thus harming public morality, inciting blasphemy and destroying our values; foreign films would impact negatively on our culture.”

These new initiatives are part of the country’s ambitious new Economic Reform and Diversification Programme known as “Saudi Vision 2030”, which was launched in April 2016 by Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman, in part, to develop Saudi Arabia’s entertainment sector.

History of censorship
Women in Saudi Arabia live under harsh restrictions and art featuring women is often censored in the country’s male-dominated society.

In 2015 the Daily Mail reported that the country would censor album covers that were deemed to have “sexy” covers. In extreme cases, religious police were paid by the government to physically alter album covers by unwrapping individual CDs, removing the inserts and colouring over any exposed female flesh with a marker.

In response to such actions, three female artists in 2015 launched a poster campaign in Saudi capital Riyadh, pasting more than 400 posters that said “Art is halal”, meaning art is permissible, to provoke a discussion about the limits to freedom of expression people have in the country, reported Bustle in March 2015.

In 2013, the country’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) allegedly ordered music shops to put up signs that banned women from entering. In May 2015, authorities cancelled a concert scheduled at the Jeddah Amasy concert hall because the audience was going to be of mixed gender.

More recently, in 2016, the emir of the eastern region of Makkah banned the playing and carrying of musical instruments, headphones and speakers in public spaces. Also in 2016, the CPVPV in the Mayahel province stopped artists from performing music at a festival on two consecutive nights “to prevent swaying and dancing” which they deemed inappropriate and not “worthy to be performed in front of women”.

The level of restriction on freedom of expression in the country has gotten so stringent that in 2015 the United Nations human rights expert David Kaye expressed “grave concern”, noting a series of severe punishments against artists and citizens who expressed their beliefs and opinions about the country.

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