Three performers stabbed on stage in Saudi capital

Al Jazeera 0 month ago

A man stabbed three performers during a live show in Saudi Arabia’s capital, state television reported on Monday, adding that the victims were in stable condition.

State television footage showed the man, identified as a 33-year-old Yemeni, stomping onto the stage in Riyadh's King Abdullah Park during a musical performance by what appeared to be a foreign theatre troupe.

The incident took place in King Abdullah Park in central Riyadh, one of several venues hosting a two-month-long entertainment festival as part of government efforts to open up Saudi society and diversify its economy away from oil.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (or MBS as he is commonly known) has eased social restrictions and promoted entertainment previously banned in the conservative kingdom.

In scenes that were unimaginable just two years ago, Saudi Arabia has staged glitzy performances by a host of international artists, from South Korean boy band BTS to pop icon Janet Jackson and rapper 50 Cent.

But Saudi officials warn that introducing such reforms in a society steeped in conservatism is fraught with risk.

While they are wildly popular among Saudi Arabia's majority young population, the reforms could anger arch-conservatives, including hardline clerics and the religious police whose powers have been clipped in recent years.

"Liberals and conservatives in the kingdom are on a collision course and that probably worries Saudi leaders the most," Quentin de Pimodan, a Saudi expert at the Greece-based Research Institute for European and American Studies, told AFP.

"After this attack, we can expect a sharper crackdown on those opposed to Saudi's entertainment push." 

Opening up

The motive for the attack was not immediately clear. Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen’s civil war in 2015 against the Iran-aligned Houthis.

SPA said the victims, two men and a woman, sustained “superficial wounds” and were stabilised after receiving medical care.

A video tweeted by state television Al Ekhbariya appeared to show a man in street clothes rushing the stage towards a group of costumed performers and then falling to the ground as someone else chased him.

Another online video showed the scene from another angle, as the assailant tumbled off the stage and the performers fled.

The Riyadh Season festival’s website said the offerings at the park include live shows and music, light installations, wall climbing and zip-lining.

Saudi Arabia has faced international scrutiny over its human rights record since last year's murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul.

Developing the tourism and leisure sector is one of the foundations of MBS' Vision 2030 plan to prepare the Arab world's largest economy for the post-oil era.

The General Entertainment Authority has said it plans to pump $64bn into the sector in the coming decade.

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