Saudi Arabia‘s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) on Thursday denied it had given the green light for the opening of a nightclub in the coastal city of Jeddah.
In a statement posted on its official Twitter account, the GEA announced the opening of an immediate investigation into videos circulating online that were purportedly showing the interior of the venue.
“According to information provided to the GEA, the event (Project X) is in violation of the legal procedures and regulations in force, and has not been authorised by the body,” the statement said.
The GEA had “originally issued a licence for another event”, it added. “Its contractor then took advantage of an extension of that licence to commit these serious and unacceptable violations.”
Earlier, a number of regional media outlets had reported that the first “halal nightclub” was set to open on Thursday on the waterfront of Jeddah.
The venue was reportedly a branch of the White brand, which also has clubs in Dubai and Beirut.
US singer Ne-Yo was going to perform in the opening night on Thursday, according to the White Saudi Arabia Facebook page advertising the event. As per the ad, the club’s opening times would be between 10pm and 3am, with tickets priced between 500-1,000 Saudi riyals, or $133-$266.
The reported opening drew a wide range of reactions on social media, with some users applauding it as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman‘s reform plan to modernise the conservative kingdom, despite a severe crackdown on activists and human rights defenders.
Others had scoffed at the idea of a “halal nightclub”, calling it an oxymoron, despite the venue being touted by its apparent organisers as an alcohol-free club. Several reports had said that photography would be strictly prohibited inside the venue, as well as revellers under the age of 18.
Under the Arabic hashtag #Disco_in_Jeddah, some on Twitter used humour, including memes featuring Mr Bean, a famous comedic character played by British actor Rowan Atkinson.
Others, however, expressed their disagreement with the opening, saying it violated Saudi Arabia’s Islamic identity and traditions.
Under an Arabic hashtag that translates to “I don’t accept forbidden acts on Jeddah beach,” users decried what they said were corrupting exotic imports that clashed with the kingdom’s religious standing as the host of the holiest shrine in Islam.
ولا نرضى بكل الفعاليات التي تخالف قيم ومباديء وأخلاق الإسلام!
بل وحتى شيم ومروءة العرب!
— عَبد العزِيز (@abd_al_aziz__) June 11, 2019
Translation: We do not accept all events that violate the values, principles and morals of Islam!
Translation: This is called degradation, not reformist Islam. God curse those who wanted to deprive us of our religion’s teachings on the pretext of moderation.