Comic Con has come to Saudi Arabia for the first time, and is now being punished by the country’s Entertainment Authority for an unspecified “violation.”
Thousands of Saudis joined the three-day event of anime, pop art, video gaming, and film-related events in the city of Jeddah on the Red Sea coast, a major urban center of Saudi Arabia, February 16-18.
The festival was organized by Saudi firm Time Entertainment as part of a government initiative to bring entertainment to Saudi Arabia.
“Saudi Comic Con (SCC) is the first event of its kind… The experience will be different and unique in the world of films, comics and anime, with various activities and celebrity appearances from the local and international entertainment scene,”organizers said in a statement ahead of the event.
After the event, however, the General Authority for Entertainment said that it will penalize the organizers for a “violation.”
“The General Authority for Entertainment regrets the violation committed by the organizers of the Comic-Con event” at the event, the authority said, adding that its priority is “safeguarding values, morals and traditions,” as cited by AFP.
The authority did not specify the nature of the violation, but added that the event was a “general success in terms of content and organization.”
“The violation has been monitored by the authority’s staff and was halted at the time. Sanctions will be applied against the executing company in parallel with what has been committed in violations,” the statement read, as cited by Arab News.
Hussein Al-Sheikh, the imam of the Prophet’s Mosque, criticized the event on Twitter, calling for a boycott.
“We were astonished by the hideous act of the Entertainment Authority, by these events held in Jeddah that are not in line with good behavior or our great religion… It is a duty upon officials to consider God in these actions,” he said, as cited by Reuters.
Many Saudis also tweeted their discontent with the event. They even created the hashtag “a new disaster for entertainment in Riyadh” in Arabic.
“Our heroes on the southern border are sacrificing their lives and enduring great difficulties to protect the country and fools are dancing around and performing shameful acts. Disgraceful,” one person wrote, referring to Saudi soldiers engaged in Yemen’s civil war.
Others defended the event, creating the hashtag “the General Entertainment Authority makes us happy.”
Saudi Arabia has strict rules regarding the segregation of single women and men. An AFP witness, however, said that he saw young men and women mingling inside the hall during the Saudi Comic Con.
The kingdom’s guardianship system requires a male family member – typically a father, husband, or brother – to grant permission for a woman to study, travel, rent an apartment, receive medical treatment, or marry. Many employers also require proof of consent in order to hire a woman.
Saudi Arabia recently introduced the Vision 2030 economic diversification plan, which calls for the promotion of “culture and entertainment.” It is supported by the kingdom’s deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
Not everyone supports the idea. In January, Saudi Arabia’s top religious cleric said that cinemas and singing concerts are a depravity, adding that cinemas are dangerous, as they may show films which are “immoral,” “atheist,” and can change the country’s culture.
The cinema industry is poorly developed in Saudi Arabia. The country has no cinemas, except an IMAX in the city of Khobar, which shows documentaries.