In pictures: Saudi 'camel beauty contest'
January 22, 2018 | 7:06 PM
by Reuters
Saudi men stand next to camels as they participate in King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Rimah Governorate, north-east of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on January 19, 2018. Photo - Reuters

The dromedaries paraded down a dusty racetrack as judges rated the size of their lips, cheeks, heads and knees. Crowds of men watched from the bleachers, hooting when the beasts representing their own tribe loped down the track.

A dozen beasts have been disqualified from this year's Saudi "camel beauty contest" because their handlers used Botox to make them more handsome.

"The camel," explained the chief judge of the show, Fawzan Al Madi, "is a symbol of Saudi Arabia. We used to preserve it out of necessity, now we preserve it as a pastime."

Much is changing in Saudi Arabia: the country is getting its first movie theatres. Soon women will be permitted to drive. The authorities eventually hope to diversify the economy away from the oil that has been its lifeblood for decades.

But as they seek to transform the conservative kingdom, the Saudi authorities are trying to smooth the path for reform by emphasising traditional aspects of their culture. And for the Bedouin of Arabia, nothing is more essential than the camel, used for centuries for food, transport, as a war machine and companion.

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