A Saudi Festival of Segregation
By Ali Al-Ahmed and Ashley Deiana
Early spring in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia brings its fair share of natural wonders. But desert sunrises and shifting dunes aside, spring is also the time of one of the few secular festivals held in Saudi Arabia, the Janadriya cultural festival. Janadriya is an annual event that includes camel racing, sword dancing, native craft displays and lectures by Saudi artisans and historians, among other things. International dignitaries are invited to visit or participate in some of the activities; as are some Arab Americans leaders who work in civil rights.
From a distance, Janadriya appears as any other cultural festival until one takes a closer look. While men and women mix in the streets and markets of Saudi Arabia, even as women buy lingerie from mostly foreign men, the Saudi “reformer” King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz al-Saud bars women from joining their husbands and children from visiting the festivals. They must do so on separate days while no men are around, expect off course for the religious police who appear to have a divine permission to be around women.
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Ali Al-Ahmed, director, and Ashley Deiana, Associate Analyst