Editorial: The stars are aligned for cinema in Saudi Arabia

The Saudi Film Festival in Dhahran was a huge success.
Updated 08 April 2017
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Editorial: The stars are aligned for cinema in Saudi Arabia

A Saudi film festival concluded a few days ago in the Eastern Province of the Kingdom. In what was a magnificent display of local creativity and an appreciation of the beautiful art of movie-making, local producers, directors, actors and film fans all got together and enjoyed the wonders of the big screen together.
More importantly, the festival served as a reminder that Saudis — like anyone else in the world — can enjoy the magic of motion pictures and experience the thrills and chills of public screenings without any issues.
Of course, this was not the first festival of its kind in the Kingdom; such events have been organized more frequently over the past few years. However, there is no escaping the obvious question: If Saudis and foreigners can enjoy films at these local festivals, then why can’t the Kingdom simply open up public movie theaters, where both locally produced films as well as selected Hollywood blockbusters can be shown?
The ban on cinema in Saudi Arabia is a complicated matter. Technically, there is no law or religious edict (fatwa) that prohibits it and the disappearance of movie theaters (which used to exist up to the 1970s in some Saudi cities) is known to be a recent matter which crept its way into society.
This was possibly based on the “ijtihad” of some overzealous elements and the negligence of officials who may have not seen the matter as a priority... after all, to many people cinema is merely a pastime.
Could there have been an element of media control at that time as well? Possibly... although that argument, if it ever existed, was shredded to bits with the introduction of satellite television in the early 1990s and the Internet a decade later.
Yet today’s Saudi Arabia is incomparable with that of 1980s or 1990s. In fact, the pace of change occurring in the Kingdom is so fast that it is even incomparable to the Saudi Arabia of two years ago!
Yes, there are still plenty of social issues to fix. However, one cannot ignore that in the past six months alone, we have seen live concerts, mixed audiences, visit of Hollywood stars, the Kingdom’s first ever Comic-Con and more art galleries and film activities than perhaps ever before.
Naturally, credit needs to be given where credit is due, and the newly-formed and government-backed General Authority for Entertainment certainly deserves a round of applause for all its efforts to bring joy, laughter and magical moments to the Kingdom and paint a bright future which awaits us within Vision 2030.
Will there be those who are unhappy with a decision to re-open movie theaters? Of course there will be. However, nobody will be forcing them to change their mind or watch a film if they don’t choose to. We must remember that there were also those who opposed schools for girls and if it wasn’t for the late King Faisal and his stern and decisive approach to the matter in the 1960s, women’s education might have been delayed for decades.
Will there be a security risk of having people together in a public arena? Of course there will be. But would that be any more dangerous than attending a football match or flying on a plane?
On the other hand, we need only think of how such a step would allow a wider slice of society to be empowered, cultivated and exposed to this beautiful art form (not everyone can afford to fly to Dubai, Cairo or London to watch a film). Furthermore, we will be creating jobs and a brand new industry, not just for local filmmakers, but for everyone from ticket-booth attendants to ushers and everyone else in the supply-chain of the movie-going business.
We do hope to see cinemas opening soon; after all, the stars could not be any more aligned than they are now.


Editorial: Iran must not go unpunished

Updated 16 May 2019
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Editorial: Iran must not go unpunished

  • Arab News argues that while war is always a last resort, an international response is a must to curb Iranian meddling
  • US strikes worked well when Assad used chemical weapons against his people

The attacks on Tuesday by armed drones on Saudi oil-pumping stations, and two days beforehand on oil tankers off the coast of Fujairah in the UAE, represent a serious escalation on the part of Iran and its proxies, should the initial conclusions of an international investigation prove to be accurate. 

Riyadh has constantly warned world leaders of the dangers that Iran poses, not only to Saudi Arabia and the region, but also to the entire world. This is something former President Obama did not realize until the Iran-backed Houthis attacked the US Navy three times in late 2016. The recent attacks on oil tankers and oil pipelines were aimed at subverting the world economy by hitting directly at the lifeline of today’s world of commerce. Tehran should not get away with any more intimidation, or be allowed to threaten global stability. 

It was in 2008 that the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz called upon the US to “cut off the head of the snake,” in reference to the malign activities of Iran. Nearly a decade later, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman referred to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the “new Hitler of the Middle East.” We are in 2019 and Iran continues to wreak havoc in the region, both directly and through its well armed proxies. Crown Prince Mohammed was therefore clearly correct when he argued that appeasement does not work with the Iranian regime, just as it did not work with Hitler. The next logical step — in this newspaper’s view — should be surgical strikes. The US has set a precedent, and it had a telling effect: The Trump strikes on Syria when the Assad regime used Sarin gas against its people.

We argue this because it is clear that sanctions are not sending the right message. If the Iranian regime were not too used to getting away with their crimes, they would have taken up the offer from President Trump to get on the phone and call him in order to reach a deal that would be in the best interests of the Iranian people themselves. As the two recent attacks indicate, the Iranians insist on disrupting the flow of energy around the world, putting the lives of babies in incubators at risk, threatening hospitals and airports, attacking civilian ships and putting innocent lives in danger. As the case always is with the Iranian leadership, they bury their heads in the sand and pretend that they have done nothing. Nevertheless, investigations indicate that they were behind the attack on our brothers in the UAE while their Houthi militias targeted the Saudi pipelines.

Our point of view is that they must be hit hard. They need to be shown that the circumstances are now different. We call for a decisive, punitive reaction to what happened so that Iran knows that every single move they make will have consequences. The time has come for Iran not only to curb its nuclear weapon ambitions — again in the world’s interest — but also for the world to ensure that they do not have the means to support their terror networks across the region. 

We respect the wise and calm approach of politicians and diplomats calling for investigations to be completed and all other options to be exhausted before heading to war. In the considered view of this newspaper, there has to be deterrent and punitive action in order for Iran to know that no sinister act will go unpunished; that action, in our opinion, should be a calculated surgical strike.