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MDLBeast Soundstorm festival symbolizes a new society for young Saudis

Inside the gates of MDLBeast’s Soundstorm festival north of Riyadh, young Saudi men and women danced to electronic music in a vivid expression of the rapid social changes taking place within the Kingdom.

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Attendees described their pride for their country, and predicted a bright future for a society that was once considered one of the strictest in the world.

While the festival experienced some of the growing pains that would be expected from an event of its scale and novelty – not least the heavy traffic leading to the site in Banban – the mood inside the site was one of elation.

Running from December 16-19, it was the second edition of the blockbuster event first held in 2019 as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 reforms that legalized public concerts, cinema screenings, and female drivers among a slew of other changes.

Soundstorm was 21-year-old Riyadh resident Basil al-Omari’s first ever festival.

For him, it was symbolic of a “big future” for Saudi Arabia. He reflected on how Saudi social norms are changing in a positive way, allowing genders to mix at events without fear of repercussions.

Noora Maghrebi, from Jeddah, told Al Arabiya English: “Everything is great here; the food, the vibes, the people.”

The young IT manager said that she never would have imagined that such an event would take place in the Kingdom.

“I’m very proud that we reached this state, and I’m pleased to be here today.”

The festival showcased more than 150 international and local artists over seven stages at the sprawling site, boasting such names as DJ Snake, Future, David Guetta, and Afrojack on the lineup.

Organizers MDLBeast estimated that more than 180,000 people attended on the first day.

MDLBeast went to great lengths to ensure the safety of attendees, with a zero-tolerance policy towards harassment market by the ‘Reset and Respect’ campaign.

People who experienced harassment were urged to report it through the festival’s mobile app, and there were at least six ‘Reset and Respect’ centers scattered across the site where people could escape the throng of the crowds and unwind.

But the overall atmosphere of the festival was not one of intimidation – the absence of overt consumption of drugs and alcohol made for a generally well-behaved crowd.

Sustainable change

Saudi DJ Adnan al-Sanna, who goes by the name Spceboi, saw Soundstorm and the wider reforms as unique events in history.

Asked whether he believes Saudi Arabia will continue along a path of reform, or return to a more traditional way of life, he said it all comes down to a question of faith in the Kingdom.

“A lot of people think: ‘If this is happening so rapidly, it’s not sustainable,’ but it’s really hard to predict.

“I feel anybody who’s saying they have an answer and says it’s not sustainable, they’re pretty much guessing.

“You either believe in the country or you don’t believe. I think that’s the question.

“Do you believe that the country might be able to manage? Yeah, I believe it. Personally, I do believe in it.”

Two Saudi nationals who spoke to Al Arabiya English and did not want to be named hinted at a wariness towards the social reforms, with one saying they could lead to an erosion of more traditional ways of life.

Many Saudis who attended the festival, however, expressed their respect and understanding for the more traditional mentality, while also acknowledging a desire to modernize.

“It’s good to keep up, that’s a good thing,” said Huda Abdulaziz, 27. “It’s a big difference, a big change. So of course there is a big question mark about the old days.

“The people who are our age, we like to do these kinds of things, and [hope for] more of these things.

“But old people, who are 50 or 60, they cannot understand these kinds of things, and it has also happened so fast, so I cannot blame them because it is a new thing for them.”

Irish expatriate Gavin Duffy, who has lived and worked in Riyadh for the last seven years, said it was “absolutely amazing” to see Saudi people enjoying the festival.

“Sure you have generations of people who have got a very conservative, very strong religious background,” he said. “But most of the young people, they respect that, but they also want a little bit of release.”

The “right place at the right time”

For Bahraini DJ Zeyah Mohsen, also known as Zone+, being in Saudi Arabia is being in the “right place at the right time.”

“Growing up in this region, I’ve always thought that, you know, maybe we’re not in the right place to really do what you love and, try to make something amazing about it and having everyone proud of you,” he said.

“But now with time, and especially after MDLBeast throwing this big festival two years ago in this region, it’s become okay, and become great to showcase your art and to play music. It’s been nice.”

From the DJ booth, both Mohsen and al-Sannaa have been witness to the release of pent-up energy from the young generation, they said.

“It was not out there in the open before, but now it’s just out there,” said Mohsen. “Everyone has the energy, energy that’s been bottled up and now it’s out there and exploding.”

Al-Sannaa added: “I think in a weird way they tapped into some sort of reservoir of interest in Saudi. People really love to party.

“I think that has always been the case in the country, but it was more hidden, more underground, more frowned upon, and a lot of it was associated with alcohol or drugs.

“Like if you party, that means that you have to be drinking. And I think MDLBeast is changing that culture.”

The scale of the festival, with its six stages and more than 180,000 estimated attendees on the first day, impressed Gavin Duffy.

“It’s pretty much bigger than anything I’ve seen in Ireland or the UK or America,” he said.

The Saudi artistic scene is seeing rapid growth as more and more young Saudis are looking to events such as Soundstorm and realizing that there is a future in the creative industry.

“We have more musicians, more DJs than before, and they’re all on par with international talent,” said al-Sannaa. “In fact, I know a lot of Saudis that would rather see locals than internationals.”

Imbued with the optimism of the past few years, many Saudis see lasting change in the future of the Middle East, with other countries looking to follow the Kingdom’s example.

“I think in a couple of years, the whole region will be just like anywhere else in the world. I think there’s no friction,” said Mohsen.

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Lindsay Lohan celebrates birthday as married woman to Dubai resident Bader Shammas

Actress Lindsay Lohan is celebrating her 36th birthday on Saturday as a married woman.

The “Freaky Friday” star said she was the “luckiest woman in the world” in an Instagram post Friday that pictured her with financier Bader Shammas, who had been her fiance.

“I am stunned that you are my husband,” Lohan said in the post, adding that “every woman should feel like this everyday.”

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The couple had announced their engagement last November. People magazine and Entertainment Tonight confirmed there had been a wedding, but no details were offered.

While still single a few years ago, Lohan told Entertainment Tonight that she was looking for “a smart businessman” and someone who doesn’t like the spotlight. Shammas’ Instagram account is private.

The “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen” actress and sometimes singer has worked through some sobriety issues in recent years, and has recently filmed a romantic comedy that is due to be released on Netflix later this year.

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Dutch university gets cyber ransom money back with interest

A Dutch university that fell victim to a massive ransomware attack has partly received back its stolen money, which in the meantime more than doubled in value, a news report said on Saturday.

The southern Maastricht University in 2019 was hit by a large cyberattack in which criminals used ransomware, a type of malicious software that locks valuable data and can only be accessed once the victim pays a ransom amount.

“The criminals had encrypted hundreds of Windows servers and backup systems, preventing 25,000 students and employees from accessing scientific data, library and mail,” the daily De Volkskrant said.

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The hackers demanded 200,000 euros ($208,000) in bitcoins.

“After a week the university decide to accede to the criminal gang’s demand,” the paper said.

“This was partly because personal data was in danger of being lost and students were unable to take an exam or work on their theses,” it said.

Dutch police traced part of the ransom paid to an account belonging to a money launderer in Ukraine.

Prosecutors in 2020 seized this man’s account, which contained a number of different crypto currencies including part of the ransom money paid by Maastricht.

“When, now after more than two years, it was finally possible to get that money to the Netherlands, the value had increased from 40,000 euros to half-a-million euros,” the paper said.

Maastricht University will now get the 500,000 euros ($521,000) back.

“This money will not go to a general fund, but into a fund to help financially strapped students,” Maastricht University ICT director Michiel Borgers said.

The investigation into the hackers responsible for the attack on the university is still ongoing, De Volkskrant added.

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Singer R. Kelly sues Brooklyn jail for putting him on suicide watch

R. Kelly on Friday sued the Brooklyn jail that has housed him since his racketeering and sex crimes conviction, saying it wrongly put him on suicide watch after he received a 30-year prison sentence despite knowing he was not suicidal.

In a complaint filed in Brooklyn federal court, the 55-year-old multiplatinum R&B singer said officials at the Metropolitan Detention Center ordered the watch after his June 29 sentencing “solely for punitive purposes” and because he was a “high-profile” inmate.

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Kelly’s lawyer Jennifer Bonjean quoted a prosecutor as saying the jail’s legal counsel had told her that “per the psychology department, is on a psych alert for various reasons, such as age, crime, publicity and sentencing.” No timetable was provided.

Bonjean wasn’t satisfied with the explanation. “Simply put, MDC Brooklyn is run like a gulag,” she wrote.

Kelly said the “harsh conditions” he faced led to “severe mental distress,” and amounted to cruel and unusual punishment that violated the US Constitution’s Eighth Amendment.

He is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages, though the docket suggests Kelly is seeking $100 million.

The jail did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Known for the 1996 Grammy-winning hit “I Believe I Can Fly,” Kelly was convicted last September on one count of racketeering and eight counts of violating the Mann Act, which bars transporting people across state lines for prostitution.

Prosecutors said Kelly exploited his stardom and wealth over two decades to lure women and underage girls into his orbit for sex, with the help of his entourage.

Kelly said he was also put on suicide watch after his conviction.

Ghislaine Maxwell, another inmate at the Brooklyn jail, was placed on suicide watch on June 24, four days before being sentenced to 20 years in prison for aiding financier Jeffrey Epstein’s sexual abuse of underage girls.

Maxwell’s lawyer said the British socialite had been given a “suicide smock” and deprived of clothing, toothpaste and soap though she too was not suicidal.

Friday’s filings did not say what specific conditions Kelly faced.

Kelly still faces an August trial in Chicago federal court on child pornography and obstruction charges, and various state charges in Illinois and Minnesota.

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