Too sexy for the Saudis

Saudi Arabia’s clerics describe satellite groups bringing sexy broadcasts to Riyadh as ” axes that destroy Islam and Muslims”; “Fear God!” they decry. With rock concerts scrapped, a film festival canceled and a cinema banned, entertainment starved Saudis who at 60% are under the age of 30, cannot promise that they will not resort to “other things that you may not like”. The youngest of the Saudi geriatric leadership is 75.

From the National Post

Man’s racy testimony angers Saudi authorities

Paul Handley, Agence France-Presse Published: Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Mazen Abdul Jawad bragged about his sexual activities on a Lebanese-based TV station. The move got him arrested in the theocratic country. YouTube Mazen Abdul Jawad bragged about his sexual activities on a Lebanese-based TV station. The move got him arrested in the theocratic country.

RIYADH — The scandal over a man boasting about his sex life on a popular satellite television show has sparked outbursts against the huge popularity of often-racy offshore broadcasts in ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia.

Influential clerics have lashed out at the most popular satellite broadcasters for corrupting Saudi society with a broad fare running from Arab sitcoms, movies and talk shows to titillating U.S. and Indian films and dramas.

Meanwhile, viewers fear some of their favourite shows, broadcast from more liberal bases in the region, could be endangered just before Ramadan, the peak yearly viewing period.

“There is no doubt that we are targeted by channels that are looking to create problems and scandals,” columnist Amel Zahad wrote in Al-Watan newspaper on Tuesday.

“Saudi society is the biggest market for satellite TV … due to the absence of alternative sources of entertainment. This is something that we have to examine and deal with.”

Sheik Yousaf al-Ahmad, a prominent Islamic scholar, has taken aim at some of the largest regional satellite broadcast groups, describing them as “axes that destroy Islam and Muslims.”

He applauded the government’s closure on Sunday and Monday of the local offices of Lebanon-based LBC, which aired the mid-July Bold Red Line talk show episode in which a newly divorced Mazen Abdul Jawad sat on his bed in his Jeddah apartment talking about his freewheeling sex life and displaying sex toys and aids.

Mr. Abdul Jawad was formally arrested on July 31 and faces possible charges related to immoral behaviour. Some clerics have called for his execution.

Meanwhile, a five-minute clip from the LBC episode posted on YouTube has been viewed half a million times, despite it being blocked by the Saudi government censor.

While not denying his client’s behaviour, his lawyer Sulaiman al-Jimaie blames the Beirut-based channel for aiming its salacious programs at young people.

“The case is about channels that target youth…. As a result of the shutdown of the LBC offices people now know that this channel has been broadcasting something bad,” he said.

Turki al-Dakheel, another Saudi columnist, labelled the closure overkill and suggested that it threatened other media.

“People have clearly expressed their attitude toward the program. Why then do we have to close the office of a TV channel, prevent the publishing of a newspaper or withhold distribution of a book?” he wrote in Al-Watan.

With cinemas banned in Saudi Arabia and stage drama and music concerts severely restricted, satellite television is by far the most popular form of entertainment in the kingdom, broadcasters say.

The broadcasts come from more liberal hubs such as Beirut, Cairo and Dubai, and often from companies controlled by Saudi businessmen willingly exploiting Saudi hunger for entertainment.

Mazen Hayek, marketing manager for Dubai-based and Saudi-controlled MBC, estimates 98% of Saudi households have satellite dishes and average daily viewing is 4.5 hours.

That jumps by as much as two hours during the fasting month of Ramadan which begins around Aug. 20, giving rise to concerns the latest criticism is meant to press broadcasters to tone down their offerings for the period.

For some Saudi conservatives the LBC scandal is another opportunity to hit out at Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, who owns LBC and who openly challenges the kingdom’s strict controls on entertainment.

“The owner of LBC is known. We tell Alwaleed bin Talal, fear God!” Sheik Ahmad said.

Last month, Saudi Arabia cancelled the Jeddah Film Festival, sparking angry reactions by liberals and young bloggers craving for entertainment in a country where the Internet is censored and concerts and any mixing of unrelated men and women are banned.

“The impact on future plans is very negative to say the least,” said Saudi columnist Abdullah al-Alami.

“As Saudi Arabia is striving to promote both foreign investment opportunities and local tourism in the country, there are clear signs that these two objectives will not be achieved under the current circumstances.”

A rock music concert in a compound in Riyadh was also scrapped, while the religious police got access to private beaches in Jeddah, the most liberal city, blogs said.

“The youth are left feeling bitter and unwanted. Although they represent a large segment of our society, they have few options to pursue innocent fun,” Saudi daily Arab News wrote.

“No country for young men,” student Ahmed al-Omran wrote in his blog “Saudi jeans,” discussing a lack of entertainment for single men, concluding, “Well, they will do other things that you probably will not like.”

“You can pamper the youth by giving cars or benefits but they will speak out at some point,” said a diplomat in Riyadh.

The age difference between leadership and most citizens is huge: King Abdullah is around 85. Crown Prince Sultan is around 84, while Interior Minister Prince Nayef is around 75. About 60% of Saudis are under 30.

Agence France-Presse, with files from Reuters

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