First Comic-Con in Saudi Arabia suffers slight setback

A woman taking a selfie with a man dressed as Captain America during the Jeddah Comic-Con in Saudi Arabia on Feb 16, 2017.
A woman taking a selfie with a man dressed as Captain America during the Jeddah Comic-Con in Saudi Arabia on Feb 16, 2017.PHOTO: EPA

RIYADH • Organisers of Saudi Arabia's first Comic-Con pop culture festival will be penalised over a "violation", the government's entertainment agency said on Thursday.

It did not give details of the offence or penalty, but the authorities are cautiously moving to introduce such forms of entertainment in the country, despite resistance from Muslim conservatives.

The three-day festival of anime, pop art, video gaming and film-related events attracted a largely youthful crowd of thousands last weekend in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.

It was part of a government initiative to bring more entertainment to Saudi Arabia, where alcohol, public cinemas and theatre are banned.

The General Authority for Entertainment said it "regrets the violation committed by the organisers of the Comic-Con event" during an activity at the event. It added that its priority is "safeguarding values, morals and traditions" in public entertainment.

Comic-Con was organised by Saudi firm Time Entertainment and supported by the authority which, despite the violation, noted the event's "general success in terms of content and organisation". It said an appropriate penalty would be imposed.

Unrelated men and women are normally segregated in Saudi Arabia, where restaurants have separate sections for "single" men and families.

While they can be in the same room at commercial events such as motor shows or book fairs, unrelated members of the opposite sex are not supposed to interact.

But a witness told AFP that he saw young men and women mingling inside the darkened ComicCon hall, where conversation was drowned out by rock music.

Providing more entertainment is a goal of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 economic diversification plan being pushed by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed Salman. The 31-year- old is keen to harness the energy of a young population, more than half of which is under 25.

But last month, the kingdom's highest-ranking cleric, Grand Mufti Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, warned of the "depravity" of cinemas and music concerts, partly because they represent a "call for mixing between sexes".

A performance in December by United States stand-up comedian and actor Mike Epps was cancelled, its organisers said, after complaints from Islamic hardliners.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 25, 2017, with the headline 'First Comic-Con in Saudi Arabia suffers slight setback'. Print Edition | Subscribe