Camel Corruption Crackdown

As Saudi officials crack down on corruption, they are increasingly zeroing in on a new target: suspiciously full camel lips. Saudi Arabia has just introduced a new breed of veterinarians in the Kingdom to establish scientific justice, from the hoof up. Earlier this fall, Al-Qassim University and The Camel Club—Saudi Arabia’s official entity overseeing camel affairs—trained twenty veterinarians in how to detect camel tampering at festivals, auctions, and markets across Saudi Arabia.

The training was developed amid growing concerns that owners were cheating in camel beauty pageants. From Botox injections to ear-reduction surgery to hormone injections, increasingly aggressive efforts to make camels seem rarer and more highly prized have grown common across the Gulf. In 2018, a Saudi pageant disqualified 12 camels for cosmetic fraud in a highly publicized scandal.

These augmentations generate more than aesthetic benefits to camel owners. Festivals celebrating reimagined Arabian pastimes involving camels—from camel racing to camel beauty pageants—are on the rise. Prize money in the beauty pageants can reach $30 million. Owning fine camels is a major point of prestige in Saudi Arabia, and winning camels trend on Instagram and even have poetry written about them.

As the government increasingly tries to sell Saudi Arabia as a safe, ethical place to do business to international investors—and communicate the same to a domestic audience—the crackdown on unethical camel beautification has become one of the most recent fronts of the Kingdom’s anti-corruption agenda. Whether the camels are grateful is anyone’s guess.

This article is part of the CSIS Middle East Program series Mezze: Assorted Stories from the Middle East.