Segregated members of the Saudi community came together this past weekend to share their passion for comics, movies, video games and other pop culture. For the first time ever, Saudi Arabia enjoyed its very own Comic Con, and its citizens let their geek flags fly.
In Saudi society, men and women are typically separated in public spaces, but not this weekend. Comic Con gave them a chance to mingle with others who share their love of fandom, even when they don't share the same gender. What's perhaps more remarkable is that the event was sponsored by the same government which enforces that gender segregation.
The government is hoping to bring more entertainment to the country, where, as CNN reports, public cinemas and theatre are outlawed.
Even with the societal implications, however, the convention was much like any you might see in America. Fans flocked to the city of Jeddah on Saudi Arabia's coastline, decked out in homemade costumes celebrating their favorite characters. They gathered around booths to see artwork and merchandise and geeked out with other fans.
Despite the intermingling, some strict regulations were still in effect at the event. Special areas were set up so the female fans could show off their costumes to other women (they aren't allowed to remove their traditional garb in public), and attendees weren’t allowed to cross-dress or display insignia or iconography that goes against the teachings of Islam. Some Saudis still viewed the event as "devil-worshipping," though, and called for a boycott.
The company that set up the Comic Con says they saw it as an opportunity to capitalize on the popularity of conventions in other countries and were hoping to use the event to highlight local talent. The Saudi government told CNN that the event was part of its Vision 2030 plan, which promises several cultural reforms in the country over the next 13 years.