Saudi king sacks entertainment chief after Russian lycra clad female circus performers allowed

Saudi Arabia’s king has sacked the head of the country’s entertainment authority after conservative citizens denounced a Russian circus show that included female performers in tight costumes.

King Salman issued the royal decree relieving Ahmed al-Khatib of his post as head of the General Entertainment Authority.

Semi-official newspaper Sabq said he was fired because of a public backlash over the Russian Triumph Circus on Ice event in the capital, Riyadh.

An Arabic hashtag on Twitter that translates as ‘Naked Russian Women in Riyadh’ was trending in Saudi Arabia with comments by people upset by the appearance of the Russian female performers, including a trapeze artist, in body-hugging leotards during the show.

King Salman ordered the sacking after a backlash from religious conservative citizens on social media who used the hashtag ‘Naked Russian Women in Riyadh’ to make their point

The circus, which was scheduled to run for five days, is meant to coincide with the presence of the Saudi national team at the World Cup in Russia, according to the entertainment authority’s ticketing website.

It was not immediately clear if the remaining shows in Riyadh had been cancelled or altered.

A video on YouTube, viewed nearly 300,000 times since it was posted on Saturday, shows a number of Saudi citizens speaking out against liberal reforms they say contradict the teachings of Islam.

Earlier this year, Saudi sports officials apologised after images of scantily clad women appeared on big screens during a WWE wrestling event, which hosted women and children in the audience for the first time.

Ahmed al-Khatib was in charge of entertainment authority which was formed two years ago in a bid encourage more musical shows in the country

Ahmed al-Khatib was in charge of entertainment authority which was formed two years ago in a bid encourage more musical shows in the country

The incidents reflect some of the challenges the Saudi leadership faces as 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pushes through reforms to increase household spending and curtail conservative influence.

The entertainment authority was formed two years ago as the kingdom began allowing musical concerts after a 20-year-long ban. 

The first commercial cinema opened in April after more than three decades.

Among the most significant reforms reshaping the kingdom is a decision that will allow women the right to drive from June 24, making Saudi Arabia the last country in the world to lift a ban on women driving.

The kingdom – home to two of Islam’s holiest sites – remains a deeply conservative society. 

Saudi Arabia requires that women don long, loose-flowing robes known as abayas in public and around unrelated men. Most Saudi women also cover their hair and face in black veils.

There have been exceptions to the rules. High-level female visitors and dignitaries, such as UK Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US first lady Melania Trump, have not been required to cover their hair or wear abayas during visits to Saudi Arabia.