Malak Youssef, a 24-year-old beauty queen, was nominated by a Saudi civil society organization to compete as Miss Saudi Arabia in the Miss Arab World pageant held in Morocco on Saturday. But the young woman chose to drop out of the race before the crowning ceremony due to intense online backlash from people who said she was misrepresenting her conservative Muslim country by participating in a beauty contest.
I announce my withdrawal from the final competition rounds in ‘Miss Arab World 2018’. I am happy with just carrying the Miss Saudi Arabia title,” Youssef announced in a video posted to her Twitter account. She also said she was shocked and saddened by the backlash.
Ultra-conservative Sunni Saudi Arabia does not have an official national beauty pageant, and women in the country are expected to wear an abaya, or a robe that covers their entire body, in public. Some Saudi social media users argued that it is inappropriate for Saudi women to compete in a pageant because it goes against the country’s traditional religious values.
Saudi women are beautiful with their dignity, manners, and upbringing. They don’t need pageants to validate their beauty, one social media user argued.
This isn’t the first time a Middle Eastern woman has been attacked due to her participation in a beauty pageant. Last week, relatives of Miss Iraq were forced to flee their country after death threats were made against them for their daughter’s participation in the Miss Universe pageant. Among the main complaints were that Sarah Idan, Miss Iraq, had posted a photograph of herself with Miss Israel and had appeared in a swimsuit.
Youssef would have been the second Saudi woman to participate in the Miss Arab World pageant. Moda Nour, another Saudi woman, competed at the same beauty contest and won in 2009. The 2009 competition was held in Cairo, and Nour was later attacked, not for participating in the pageant, but for being what some critics considered too overweight to be a beauty queen.
The Miss Arab World pageant tries to be inclusive of women from all cultures and religions, and allows veiled and non-veiled women to compete together. The beauty queens compete in national dress and are not expected to wear swimsuits like women competing in international pageants.