Saudi Arabia often makes US (and international) headlines for its laws (legal mishaps?) regarding women, sex and religious minorities. Some of these stories undoubtedly belong there, but a surprising number gain traction thanks to a small amount of research and suspension of critical engagement. It seems that when it comes to Saudi Arabia (and sometimes her theocratic counterpart Iran, albeit less so), the more bizarre the story may seem – in that way only the Saudi Arabia of our perception could normalize – the more believable it is.
News and blog media have a particular penchant for covering ridiculous, often inaccurate and even false fatwas (here’s our quick definition and a more nuanced discussion on it). And in August 2012, the internet went into a bit of an uproar over the alleged building of an all-female city to promote women’s participation in the workforce. Unfortunately, the dreams of the impending matriarchy were dashed when it was eventually revealed that the city was for both men and women, but created facilities specific for women to encourage their participation.
So, what’s the latest Saudi Arabia headline wreaking havoc across the internet?
You have most probably heard by now that three Emirati men were allegedly thrown out of a cultural Janadriyah Festival by the Saudi religious police (pl. mutawaeen) for “being too handsome.” Most reports, however, have claimed the three men were actually deported from the Kingdom, itself, for their ‘seductive’ lure that was apparently going to send the attending women into an incontrollable hormonal flux. Fementertainment blog, Jezebel, was amongst the first to reveal the identity of one of the alleged Emirati men, Omar Borkan Al Gala – a photographer, model, actor and poet. The internet went into self-fanning mode as several images of the young man went viral and thousands clamored to follow him on social media websites.
Unfortunately, no one in the English press bothered to actually fact check the story.
As it turns out, three men were not, in fact, deported from Saudi Arabia. Actually, no one was deported from Saudi Arabia and certainly not for being too handsome. And, actually, no one was even kicked out of the heritage and cultural festival except for a member of the religious police for protesting against the presence of a Gulf female singer.