WOMEN’S CAMEL BEAUTY CONTEST MAKES DEBUT IN SAUDI

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Rumah, Saudi Arabia, Jan 9: Saudi women, in a first for the conservative kingdom, have paraded their camels in a beauty pageant for the prized “ships of the desert”.

“I hope today to reach a certain social standing, inshallah (God willing),” said Lamia al-Rashidi, 27, who participated at the weekend contest in the Rumah desert northeast of the capital Riyadh.

The event, part of the prestigious King Abdelaziz Festival, was previously a men-only affair.

  “I’ve been interested in camels ever since I was little,” said Rashidi, whose family owns 40 camels.

“Once this event was opened to women, I decided to participate,” said the young woman, wearing a black face covering and with a colourful shawl over her shoulders.

The top five in the field of about 40 participants in the women’s event went home with total prize money of one million riyals (about $260,000).

  The camels’ beauty is judged on several criteria, but the shape and size of the lips, neck and hump are the main attributes.

   In December, several participants were disqualified because their animals had undergone botox injections.

  In a parade at the event on the red sand track of Rumah, women in black on horseback rode ahead of men in white robes on camels as male musicians, some with swords, danced to the beat of drums.

  Saudi Arabia is seeking to diversify its economy away from oil, investing heavily in the tourism, entertainment and sports sectors.

 The shift has enabled women to get behind the wheel and take part in mixed-gender settings, even as a rigorous crackdown on dissent remains in place.