Al Khatib Image Credit: Sabq

Manama: A heavy onslaught by conservatives who objected to women donning “indecent costumes” has reportedly led to the dismissal of the chairman of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA), Ahmad Al Khatib, from his position.

Pictures and short clips of a woman in a pink figure-hugging costume performing in a circus in the capital Riyadh were posted on social media, prompting sharp criticism and critical comments from users.

“The General Entertainment Authority had been warned to impose clear conditions and criteria and tight monitoring measures in their contracts with foreigners,” sources told Saudi news site Sabq. “The GEA had previously waded into controversy and the authorities did not want a repeat of the misfortune.”

Al Khatib, a former health minister, was appointed chairman of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority in 2016.

In October last year, he was also appointed chairman of the board of directors of the Saudi Arabian Military Industries (SAMI).

The GEA was established as part of an ambitious programme to “enhance lifestyle in all regions of Saudi Arabia by providing rich and diverse entertainment options and experiences for people to enjoy”.

“The GEA contributes directly to the objectives of the Quality of Life programme, which aims to achieve a thriving economy and a vibrant society in which citizens and residents enjoy a better quality of life,” Al Khatib said in February.

He stressed that the entertainment sector needed SR267 billion of investment to build entertainment infrastructure in all regions of the kingdom.

Investment in infrastructure between 2017 and 2030 is expected to contribute SR18 billion per year to Saudi Arabia’s GDP, with consumer spending estimated to reach SR36 billion by 2030, he added.

“The GEA is proud to be one of the drivers of transformation in the kingdom, through its clear purpose to build a world-class entertainment industry that will put the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the global tourism and entertainment map,” he said.

However, the ambitious drive has to deal with conservative forces in the kingdom who have been invariably critical of the social changes led by the GEA.

To give an example of negative reactions, Ali Shihabi, director of Arabia Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, posted on his Twitter account a video of young Saudis criticising the “indecent costumes” by a performer at the circus.

“Cynics who lightly dismiss the colossal challenges that (the prince) faces in his social reforms should view this video of young Saudi men passionately denouncing the presence of a Russian circus with women performers in their country,” he tweeted.