RIYADH A leading authority of Saudi Arabia's hardline school of Islam has condemned camel beauty contests as evil, saying those involved should seek repentance in God.
Camel pageants have become major events in the desert kingdom in recent years as tribes hold ever larger competitions, with bigger prizes and wider publicity.
Delicate females or strapping males which attract the right attention during a show can sell for more than a million riyals (127,000 pounds). Sponsors spent 10 million riyals on prizes for one competition this year.
"Everyone must repent of these acts from which no good can come because of its evils, and they should beg forgiveness from God," said a fatwa, or religious ruling, issued this week by Sheikh Abdul-Rahman al-Barrak and a lesser-known sheikh.
"Millions of riyals are spent on buying camels just to feel proud and not for the reasons God created camels, like for food, drink, riding and work," he said, attacking the contests as a backward tribal custom from pre-Islamic Arabia.
Commentators have pointed to camel contests as a sign of increasing tribal pride, seen as a threat to stability in the kingdom established by the Saudi royal family in 1932.
(Reporting by Andrew Hammond; editing by Robert Hart)