Saudi Arabia’s societal transformation and reform movement, a core part of Saudi Vision 2030, has recently been given a boost by a series of decisions to bolster women’s rights and a serious effort to crack down on hate speech. In women’s rights, the Saudi Justice Ministry granted four landmark decisions regarding the protection of minors against marriage, divorce and alimony, child custody, and facilitating women lawyers practice of law. In the area of hate speech crackdown, public pressure through social media channels prompted the summoning and impending indictment of a number of Twitter users by the newly formed Department of Public Prosecution for hateful and sectarian tweets. While the aforementioned developments are clearly steps forward in women’s rights and tolerance, a much-publicized ‘war’ against dabbing in the Kingdom does much to tarnish the recent developments and derails momentum for progressive change. The campaign against dabbing puts into question the seriousness of propelling Saudi society to move in the direction of progressive change, and worse, puts a lid on the genuine and unprecedented recent reform progress.
Following the arrest of a TV personality in Taif after he dabbed during a musical competition, the campaign against the dance went viral and prompted bewilderment from social media users and media outlets around the world. The campaign was launched by the General Directorate of Narcotics Control (GDNC), who claim that the
move signifies and encourages the use of drugs. Dabbing is a hip-hop dance move that involves dropping one’s head with one arm raised, closely resembling an attempt to suppress a loud sneeze. It has been used by many famous people around the globe, from soccer sensation Paul Pogba to 2016 Democratic presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton.
The campaign picked up national attention when the GDNC formally warned famous Saudi singer Rabeh Saqr about the move, following his use of the ‘dab’ to rile up crowds at his live shows.
A similar global reaction to the campaign was witnessed when a 2001 fatwa against Pokémon was revived in 2016 with the surging popularity of Pokémon Go, claiming the game was ‘devious’ and ‘un-Islamic’.
The issue with campaigns like this is that they often overshadow advancements in many avenues on the opposite side of the spectrum that are occurring simultaneously. During the same period, significant progressive decisions were rolled out regarding women’s rights and hate speech crackdown.
Legal proceedings to control the marriage of minors were approved, an alimony fund for divorcees and their children was established, while the Supreme Judicial Court also rolled out policy maintaining that women no longer have to sue to keep custody of their children. The Justice Ministry also went forward with approving a three-year law degree that is aimed at ending exploitation of women law professionals who were working as interns and were often constrained from practicing law by their employers, by granting them a license to practice law at the conclusion of the new program.
In the realm of hate speech and tolerance, a Sunni cleric was summoned for potential indictment for chastising those who were mourning the death of Kuwaiti actor Abdulhussein Abdulredha, a Shiite Muslim. The cleric went on to describe Shiite Muslims as “rejectionists” and denied their status as Muslims. A Saudi government statement warned that posts containing “harmful content to the community” would be referred to the prosecutor, signaling a more intensified crackdown on hate speech.
Progressive change and societal transformation to open up Saudi society are core themes of Vision 2030, as laid out by Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman. Such themes fall in
line with the women’s rights and hate speech crackdown developments mentioned in the article, while with campaign against dabbing does not. MbS, as he is popularly known, stated in an interview his serious ambition for progress, “I’m young. Seventy percent of our citizens are young; we don’t want to waste our lives in this whirlpool that we were in the past 30 years. We want to end this epoch now. We want, as the Saudi people, to enjoy the coming days, and concentrate on developing our society and developing ourselves as individuals and families, while retaining our religion and customs. We will not continue to be in the post-’79 era. That age is over.” Such a statement by MbS, who is at the helm of leading sweeping reforms, affirms the need for a transformative reform movement that bridges Saudis with the rest of the world.