Scuffles in Janadriyah

High on what they seem to think is a victory in the Hamza Kashgari affair, religious conservatives opened another front by sending some of their young followers to protest against music, dancing and the mixing of men and women in the National Heritage and Culture Festival aka Janadriyah.

It all began when Sheikh Saleh al-Lihedan, former head of the judiciary, said that women should not visit Janadriyah. “My advice to anyone is to dignify their women, their wife, their mother, or anyone under his guardianship by not allowing them to go” to such events, he said.

Few days later, dozens of these religious conservatives, usually called “Mohtasbeen” headed to Janadriyah, where they clashed with security forces there. Few of them have been briefly detained. The incident was repeated the next day, and few other people were arrested as well.

Now some might think that those mohtasbeen are part of the Commission of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) aka Muttaween or the Religious Police, but that’s not the case. This group, most of them young men in their late teens and early twenties, act as some sort of unofficial muttawaeen who find things like music, dancing and gender mixing objectionable and believe they have the right to attempt to prevent things like this:

I thought the story ended after the two scuffles on Wednesday and Thursday, but I was wrong. Yesterday, members of the official CPVPV squad in Janadriyah wrote a letter to their boss announcing they would go on strike until their demands are addressed. What are their demands?

  • Increase number of CPVPV squad in Janadriyah to 300 members.
  • Stop playing music on loudspeakers.
  • Provide a 100 female security guards squad to support them.
  • Stop intervention in how to do their job by anyone, including security forces and the national guard.

Ballsy move there, no doubt. It is not everyday that government employees in Saudi Arabia threaten to go on strike. At the end of the letter, they said they were doing this because without addressing their demands they would no longer be able to do their job in a manner that is satisfactory to God first, and to their superiors second. See, these guys are not doing this for the money. They do it because they seek reward from God.

After meetings between CPVPV officials and organizers of Janadriyah, it was decided that starting today and until the end of the festival music will be stopped and the number of CPVPV squad in Janadriyah will be increased to 100. Another small victory for the conservatives.

However, this was not enough for them. Today, a group of 50 clerics led by Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak and Nasser al-Omar released a statement calling on the government to cancel Janadriyah and the upcoming book fair because they “include many violations of Sharia.”

What does it all mean?

I’m not quite sure, but it seems that the tide of the conservative wave that I wrote about last month keeps on rising, and that there are groups and individuals who want to take advantage of this be sweeping everyone and everything in their way.

Can You See the Rest of Us?

Janadriya festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The King inaugurated yesterday the two-week cultural extravaganza at Janadriya village, 45 km north-east of the capital. The festival will offer a variety of cultural dances, a massive open-air operetta, plays, seminars and more. The festival is organized by the Saudi Arabian National Guard (SANG), and has claimed even more significance since King Abdullah ascended the throne. After all, SANG is King Abdullah’s institution.

Out of the many events that take place during Janadriya, the operetta attracts most of the media’s attention. The operetta features the country’s finest talents in poetry, music, and acting. The King takes a front seat at the show every year, and the event is transmitted live on television.

Tonight Dubai-based MBC will broadcast the operetta, entitled “The Unity of Nation,” and during last week the satellite channel has been showing this promo over and over again:

The official name of Janadriya festival is “The National Culture and Heritage Festival of Saudi Arabia.” Does this promo represent what this festival is all about? Does it really convey the message of this event? I don’t think so.

For starters, apparently no one at MBC has a problem with the mispronunciation of the national anthem’s lyrics. Like it or not, I think this is just plain wrong. Now coming to the desert theme. Not only it is cliche and overused, it’s also a misrepresentation of our country. How many Saudis ride horses these days anyway? I keep telling foreigners that there is much more about Saudi Arabia than desert and camels, and then MBC come and give me this?!

The operetta is entitled “The Unity of Nation,” but I’m afraid that MBC could not see anything in this nation except for Najd. Where are the mountains of Aseer? Where are the palm trees of Ahsa? Where are the beaches of Jeddah and Dammam? Where is Makkah and Madinah? Where is the rest of Saudi Arabia?

Dear MBC, why can’t you see the rest of us?