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Saudi religious hardliners furious over 'raucous mixed-gender' national day celebrations

The presence of women at the stadium marked a departure from previous celebrations [SPA]

Date of publication: 26 September, 2017

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Saudi hardliners have condemned raucous celebrations on the kingdom's national day on Saturday, which saw women being allowed to enter the capital's main stadium for the first time.

Saudi hardliners have condemned raucous celebrations on the kingdom's national day on Saturday, which saw women being allowed to enter the capital's main stadium for the first time.

The religious conservatives have taken to social media to decry scenes of gender mixing and dancing at an event at King Fahd stadium, which included concerts, folk dance and fireworks.

"In all certainty, what has happened does not please God and his messenger. Patriotism has never been about dancing, gender mixing, indecency and musical instruments," one Saudi journalist quipped on Twitter.

Another Saudi man posted a video of himself slamming the event.

"Is this a national day? Women dancing in front of people, gender mixing and young men dancing to music. Where are these women's guardians?" he asked.

Other users demanded the return of the country's religious police, which last year had its powers curbed.

The presence of women at the King Fahd stadium marked a departure from previous celebrations in the Gulf kingdom where they are effectively barred from sports arenas by strict rules on public segregation of the sexes.

Women were allowed to enter the stadium, a previously male-only venue used mostly for football matches, with their families and seated separately from single men to watch a musical show and a play on Saudi history.

Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia has some of the world's tightest restrictions on women and is the only country where they are not allowed to drive, despite ambitious government reforms aimed at boosting female employment.

Under the country's guardianship system, a male family member - normally the father, husband or brother - must grant permission for a woman's study, travel and other activities.

But the kingdom appears to be relaxing some norms as part of its "Vision 2030" plan for economic and social reforms conceived by powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Arabia has cautiously begun introducing entertainment, including music concerts, despite opposition from hardliners in the kingdom, where public cinemas and theatre are banned.

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