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Saudi Arabia: Half-clothed samba dancers spark investigation

Jazan province orders inquest following backlash over presence of performers at a street parade last week
A foreign dancer wearing traditional samba attire dances and high fives bystanders in the Saudi city of Jazan (Twitter/Screengrab)

Footage of half-dressed samba dancers in Saudi Arabia has sparked strong reactions on social media, prompting an investigation by a local province. 

Last week, video clips surfaced online of three foreign performers, dressed in bright blue and pink traditionally embellished samba costumes, attracting large crowds as they danced down a busy street in the southern city of Jazan. 

The dancers, whose arms, bellies and legs were partly exposed, summoned high fives with local attendees, as they paraded alongside male drummers. 

The performance was part of the Jazan Winter Festival, one of a number of entertainment events put on by Saudi authorities across the country. 

Entertainment forms a key part of the conservative kingdom's Vision 2030 strategy to move away from oil-reliance and improve its international reputation, under the de-facto leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (commonly known as MBS).

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The Saudi state-run TV channel Al Ekhbariya aired footage of the festival, but blurred out images of the samba dancers, according to AFP. 

"Shows are for entertainment, not to attack good ways and to go against religion and social morals," Mohammed al-Bajwi, a Jazan resident, told the channel.

'Whisky Wahhabi'

The videos sparked widespread backlash on social media, as users claimed that Saudi Arabia - home to Islam’s holiest sites - was veering away from Islamic principles.

“We have forgotten that we are a Muslim country and have begun moral and incorrect transgressions that are not necessary,” one user wrote

“This exemplified what I called #WhiskyWahhabi,” tweeted Saudi analyst Ali al-Ahmed. 

“I coined this term to show how [the] Saudi monarchy is banning celebration of Prophet Mohamed’s birthday on religious grounds but doing this.” 

In December, the kingdom came under similar criticism from conservatives after hosting the MDL Beast musical festival, which saw hundreds of thousands of men and women dancing together in what was described as a "giant rave". 

Following the backlash last week, Jazan governor Prince Mohammed bin Nasser ordered an investigation into the presence of the samba dancers. 

“[Prince Mohammed] quickly directs an investigation into the participation of a dance troupe in downtown activities at the 2022 Jazan Winter Festival and to take the necessary measures to prevent any abuses,” the governorate’s official Twitter account announced on Saturday. 

Dissident Saudi scholar Saied ibn Nasser responded by lambasting the independence of such an investigation. 

“They brought topless dancers to festivities… then Prince Mohammed Nasser issued an order to investigate the matter,” he said. “Are you deceiving God or deceiving the believers?

“Do you think people forgot that MBS killed [Saudi journalist Jamal] Khashoggi and then ordered the investigation of those he sent?!” 

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