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Saudi holds a 'rave in the desert'

Saudis danced the night away in the desert as a group of people held a massive rave

Over 700,000 people flocked to a popular music festival in Saudi Arabia to mark the end of the four-day event, according to the kingdom's authorities today.

Over the course of the MDLBeast Soundstorm festival, 732,000 party-goers travelled to the concert held in the Saudi desert north of the capital Riyadh, in what the head of Saudi's General Entertainment Authority, Turki Al-Sheikh, praised as "one of the largest music festivals in the world."

In videos circulating online, the revellers who were mostly young men and women can be seen dancing side by side to the electronic music played by popular figures such as the French DJ David Guetta.

One young Saudi woman who attended spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity and said: "We've never seen anything like this in Riyadh before – crowds, music, VIP rooms, unconventional clothing for the kingdom."

She added that such concerts and music festivals have been beneficial to Saudi youth by providing an outlet for them. "We are thirsty for music, entertainment, movies, laughter and outings. It's like we're rediscovering our country and that makes us very happy"

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Since 2019, the Saudi government has allowed such entertainment events to be held throughout the country and has invited numerous artists from around the world to perform at them.

Despite the move being propagated as part of the kingdom's effort to open up to the wider world and modernise itself, many human rights groups have criticised it as an attempt to whitewash its human rights violations and lack of democratic values.

Ahead of this latest festival, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a statement saying that "Performers and promoters should use their microphones, stages and screen time to speak out about human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia or refuse to participate in yet another one of Saudi's reputation laundering schemes."

Religious figures and populations outside the kingdom are also criticising Riyadh's move, insisting that it is un-Islamic and inappropriate, especially in the land of the two holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.

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