Saudi entertainment chief sees cinemas returning, eventually

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A full house at the opening ceremony of the fourth Saudi Film Festival. (AN photo)
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Motorcyclist performs during Monster Jam show which was organized by General Entertainment Authority, in Riyadh. (AN photo by Ahmed Fadhi)
Updated 28 April 2017
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Saudi entertainment chief sees cinemas returning, eventually

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia will one day open cinemas and build a world-class opera house, the man spearheading the kingdom’s entertainment reforms said on Thursday, downplaying opposition by powerful religious authorities to changes they see as sinful.
The kingdom had some cinemas in the 1970s but the clerical establishment persuaded the authorities to close them, reflecting rising Islamist influence throughout the Arab region at the time.
Cinemas are still banned. And while concerts have started to be held this year, they remain frowned on by clerics.
But the government has promised a shake-up of the cultural scene with a set of "Vision 2030" reforms announced by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz last year, aimed at creating jobs and opening up Saudis' cloistered lifestyles.
The changes are also intended to capture up to a quarter of the $20 billion currently spent overseas by Saudis, who are accustomed to travelling abroad to see shows and visit amusement parks in nearby tourist hub Dubai or further afield.
In a Reuters interview, Ahmed al-Khatib, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority (GEA), said conservatives who criticized the reforms were gradually learning that most Saudis, a majority of whom are under 30, wanted these changes.
His goal was to create entertainment that "will be like 99 percent of what is going on in London and New York," although he noted that after decades of cultural conservatism such change could not be rapid.
"I believe we are winning the argument," he said. A few Saudis were liberal, a few conservative, but "the majority are moderate."
"They travel, they go to cinemas, they go to concerts. I am counting on the middle segment, which is about 80 pct of the population," he said. Conservatives, he added, could simply opt to stay at home if they did not care for the events.
MASSIVE DEMAND
In large part, the kingdom's entertainment plans are motivated by economics. With oil prices low, authorities have embarked on an ambitious reform programme to diversify the economy and create whole new sectors to employ young Saudis.
The government has commissioned the Boston Consulting Group to identify venues like parks and theatres for the kingdom to develop through a mix of government funding and private sector investment.
Khateeb said the GEA’s activities have created 20,000 jobs so far after only seven months, and can surpass targets set out last year in the Vision 2030. He predicts the share of Saudi spending on entertainment will triple to 8 or 9 percent by 2030.
The kingdom's most ambitious leisure project to date is a giant entertainment city being planned for outside the capital Riyadh, which would aim to draw regional visitors with resorts, golf courses, car racing tracks and a Six Flags theme park.
"Our start is very encouraging. Every event is sold out," he said, noting that 10,000 more people than could be accommodated showed up for Comic-Con, a comic book convention held in Jeddah in February.
"The demand is massive. And it is normal – the demographic is young in Saudi Arabia and we have a higher disposable income than other countries."
CINEMAS
But Comic-Con also spurred the most public challenge to the entertainment agenda thus far, drawing rebuke from some conservatives.
Such conservatism was not always the way in Saudi Arabia, said Khatib, but would take time to change after it had been nurtured over the course of several decades.
Cinemas, a particular flashpoint, were not on the agenda in the short term, but would come Saudi Arabia eventually, he said. "We will get there. We'll get there. I know how. I don’t know when."
You can "also read" our editorial on opening cinemas.


Saudi Arabia praised for services and facilities for Hajj pilgrims

Updated 16 August 2018
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Saudi Arabia praised for services and facilities for Hajj pilgrims

  • Guests laud King Salman’s efforts to unify ranks
  • Tatarstan’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Kamil Ismailov hailed the Kingdom’s efforts to ensure pilgrims’ comfort and safety

MAKKAH: King Salman received thanks from guests at Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Guests Program for welcoming and supporting pilgrims. They also thanked him for hosting them so that they can perform Hajj rituals. 

The king’s guests praised the services provided for them from the moment they arrived in the holy lands. This underscores the depth of the Saudi experience in dealing with crowds and successfully hosting millions of pilgrims each year.

Tatarstan’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Kamil Ismailov hailed the Kingdom’s efforts to ensure pilgrims’ comfort and safety.

“The expansion projects in the Two Holy Mosques and the holy sites, as well as the readiness of all medical and security teams, constitute strong evidence of Saudi Arabia’s capacities and ability to organize and manage the crowds with every Hajj season,” he added.

Ismailov pointed out that Muslims represent 70 percent of the population in Tatarstan, and that it is the first country in the region to adopt Islam as a state religion since 922.

Sheikh Mustafa Jusufspahic, the grand mufti of Belgrade, in Serbia, said that King Salman’s hosting of pilgrims from all over the world continues a tradition of the leadership of this blessed land assisting and unifying Muslims. It continues the path of good and giving by the Kingdom’s leaders toward Islamic work in the world, accounting for its prestigious position in the Muslim world, he added.

Jusufspahic expressed his thanks and appreciation to King Salman for his great gesture that enables Muslims to perform Hajj easily and conveniently. He praised all services offered in the program, which is supervised by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs.

Mohammed Amin, a professor from Ethiopia, who is making his first visit to Makkah, commended King Salman’s invitation to Muslims from all over the globe. He also saidthat the Ethiopian people were well aware of the financial and cultural support provided by the Kingdom.

The imam of the Central Mosque in Ethiopia, Ibrahim Khalil, expressed his admiration for the warm reception he and his delegation received upon their arrival, their speedy entry into the country and the journey to their residence.

Guinean Islamic preacher Mohammed Idris said the infrastructure and the scale of the preparations in Makkah reflect the tremendous efforts from all sectors there. “The Kingdom endeavors to develop organization and management of the Hajj season every year, a fact highly acclaimed among Muslims in Guinea, who consider Saudi Arabia to be the heart of the Islamic world,” he said.

Professor Bassim Berniavorates, from the faculty of medicine at the University of Sarajevo in Bosnia, said he was happy he had the opportunity to perform Hajj for the first time in his life, and was eager to meet Saudi people, to learn about their customs and traditions, and to visit popular markets that reflect the historical richness of Makkah.

He added that the Bosnian people were grateful for Saudi Arabia’s support throughout history, which has enabled them to overcome obstacles and crises and achieve their aspirations in building a civilized and democratic nation.

Bassim, a professor of anesthesia at the University Hospital in Sarajevo, noted that the program helped to extend bridges of communication with the world. “The Bosnians became more familiar with the Saudis and proud of this cultural fusion in the holiest parts of the earth,” said Bassim.

Dr. Mekhtbakh, from the Sports Academy in Kyrgyzstan, said that by visiting the holy land he had achieved a life-long dream. He expressed his thanks and appreciation to King Salman for his generous patronage and keenness to host Muslims from all over the world.