Barbie feels the heat in Saudi

Saudi Arabian government decides to ban imports of all female dolls, teddy bears and non-Islamic religious symbols.

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By  David Ingham Published  December 31, 2003

For many years she was considered one of the most virtuous women in the world. With her grace, elegance and charm, Barbie entertained children from New York to Paris via the Middle East. However, all that could be about to change after the Saudi Arabian government decided to ban imports of all female dolls, teddy bears and non-Islamic religious symbols. The announcement by interior minister and chief of religious polic, Prince Nayef, comes at a time when the Kingdom has desperately been trying to improve its image across the world. Speaking to the London-based Guardian newspaper Ali Al Ahmad of the Washington-based Saudi Institute suggested that Prince Nayef was attempting to appease extremists, as “the followers of Wahabi Islam believe in forbidding this sort of thing.” Saudi government officials would not confirm the ban when pressed by Arabian Business. It also remains unclear as to whether male dolls are still legal. Shopkeepers will now have three months to clear out any remaining stock of illegal products. Saudi Arabia’s offensive against Barbie began almost ten years ago, when the religious police banned her from the Kingdom. In September, a statement carried by the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and Prevention of Vice listed the doll as offensive to Islam. “Jewish Barbie dolls, with their revealing clothes and shameful postures, accessories and tools are a symbol of decadence to the perverted West,” said the message. One Imam in Riyadh added that the religious police was not concerned that girls were playing with the toys, but could corrupt them. “These dolls should not have the developed body of a woman and wear revelaing clothes,” he said. “These clothes will be imprinted on their minds and they will refuse to wear the clothes we are used to as Muslims.” Barbie has already faced stiff competition from her Iranian counterpart Dara and American Muslim counterpart Razzen in recent years, but this latest announcement will inevitably make it more difficult to wins the hearts and minds of Saudi children. Despite this, Barbie dolls are still widely available on the black market with one item selling for as much as $30. Mattel, the US-based company that has made Barbie dolls since 1959, refused to comment on the latest developments, adding that Saudi Arabia’s stance on Barbie dolls had not changed dramatically over the last few years.

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