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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

New Saudi Miss Camel to be crowned

Loyal readers will remember the horrible news last January when a Saudi beauty contest winner died and was mourned by many.

Well, it is time for her replacement to be named. (Warning: Camel pron ahead)
Camel breeders are open about their admiration for the physical attributes of the animals as they gather at this spring's camel markets.

"It's just like judging a beautiful girl," said Fowzan al-Madr, a camel breeder. "You look for big eyes, long lashes and a long neck."

Public displays of affection between men and women are rigidly policed by the feared officials of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice but in the camel bazaars anything goes.

"Camels are just like humans," breeder Haza al-Shammari told the International Herald Tribune. "They love and hate just like humans. That's why you have to bring them up very gently."

Mr Shammari grabbed his favourite camel's neck and kissed the beast on the mouth.

"She isn't married yet, this one," he said. "She's still a virgin. Look at the black eyes, the soft fur. The fur is trimmed so it's short and clean, just like a girl going to a party.

"When you get to know the camels, you feel love for them. My camels are like my children, my family."

British author Robert Lacey, a resident of Saudi Arabia, said ownership of a troupe of camels was central to an elite lifestyle that revolves around desert entertainment.

"They let you stroke them and pet them," he said.

"You can go out for the day, two or three hours out of Riyadh, have lunch, play with the camels, have tea, say the sunset prayer in the desert. Camels are a gentleman's pastime and this is how a gentleman entertains his friends.

"In a way, you're also re-enacting the pageant of your ancestors."

With camels changing hands for as much as 17 million Saudi Riyals (£2.2 million), camel owners are keenly awaiting the emergence of a new reigning champion.

The previous top camel, Mashoufan, died in January. Four of its offspring are seen as favourites to claim the crown.

The organiser of the pageant said it was drawing as much interest as a human competition would elsewhere in the Middle East.

"In Lebanon they have Miss Lebanon," said the man who has the username Walid on a competition's website. "Here we have Miss Camel."