How US expertise can help build the emerging Saudi entertainment industry

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The first-ever Saudi Comic-Con took place in Jeddah and a crowd of more than 20,000 flocked to the event in February. (AN photo)
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The New York-based dance group iLuminate performed in Riyadh and Jeddah in September and October 2016.
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Thousands of spectators attend the WWE Live event in Jeddah in October 2015. (AN photo by Ali Fayyaz)
Updated 21 May 2017
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How US expertise can help build the emerging Saudi entertainment industry

JEDDAH: As US President Donald Trump visits Saudi Arabia, it is important to remember that ties between the two countries go far deeper than politics — in fact, the Kingdom has long been a consumer of American pop culture and entertainment.
As one of the world’s leading entertainment producing nations, Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Entertainment (GAE) — which was created in 2016 and is working to carry out Vision 2030’s call for more entertainment in the country — has looked to the US in a bid to add some sparkle to the leisure sector in the Kingdom.
From wrestling events to the first ever Saudi Comic Con, fans have been treated to a host of cultural activities and have much more to look forward to. But more importantly, the list of class acts is expected to expand to include Western pop stars. It is not far-fetched to find Justin Bieber or Beyoncé in a concert lineup.

Six Flags amusement park to thrill families
Last April, the Kingdom announced plans to build a large entertainment city south of the capital to feature a Six Flags theme park, safari, cultural facilities and more. The US-based Six Flags park announced that it is building three parks in the country, one slated for Riyadh, one for Jeddah and one at a resort elsewhere on the Red Sea coast.
A waiver from Dubai Parks and Resorts DUBA.DU, which holds exclusive rights to develop and operate Six Flags-branded theme parks in the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), would enable the Saudi parks to carry the Six Flags name.

WWE Live takes Saudi fans by storm
WWE Live returned last year with wrestling stars Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, Bray Wyatt and many more.
“I’ve been a WWE fan since I was 5 years old and it was literally a dream come true. I was finally able to see these amazing world champions in their element. The crowd went wild and the venue was packed,” 20-year-old Yazeed M.A. told Arab News.
“It’s so cool to see such entertainment shows come to my home country, a much-needed change. My brother was ecstatic as we both grew up watching WWE,” he added.

iLuminate wows crowds
In 2016, the New York-based show iLuminate wowed audiences in Riyadh and Jeddah with a series of non-traditional musical performances that dazzled families and saw children dancing in the aisles.

Comedians take to the stage
In 2016, American comedian Gabriel Iglasias, known by the stage name of “Fluffy,” entertained audiences in Riyadh and Jeddah for the second time.
“Fluffy was hilarious, I’ve never laughed harder in my life. I got the chance to attend his show in Jeddah and I had the best time. The GAE is doing great at bringing in talent, especially from the US since their reputation precedes them,” fan Anas Al-Ayesh told Arab News.
Comic-Con in Saudi Arabia
In February, the first-ever Saudi Comic-Con took place in Jeddah and a crowd of more than 20,000 flocked to the event. Fans from around the country attended the three-day convention, which was considered a success.
Anime enthusiasts, Marvel and DC Comic fans and Saudi game developers gathered to showcase their work while a private all-female cosplay competition stole the show for many women.
The event also held discussion panels featuring movie and television actors such as Julian Glover and Charles Dance, the infamous “Lord Tywin Lannister” from HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
Nada Al-Qahtani, an avid anime fan, expressed her pleasure at attending the event, saying: “I’m an anime fan and it was great seeing the majority of attendees sharing the same adoration. We otakus (anime fans) were beyond pleased, it was better than I expected.”
“There were volunteers on every corner guiding and helping the crowds, the cosplayers were brilliant and I was very happy to see so many Saudi talents showcasing their products,” she said.
“It’s great to see that our country gave our youth the opportunity to share their work... It made people realize they don’t need to travel abroad to attend Comic Cons or showcase their work abroad, it’s a chance for them to do so in their homeland.”

Deepak Chopra’s inspiring lectures
This month, public speaker and alternative medicine proponent Deepak Chopra presented two unique and inspiring lectures in Riyadh. The US-based powerhouse spoke about the importance of empowering young people, well-being and the merits of good leadership.


Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women driving

Updated 24 June 2018
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Saudi Arabia lifts ban on women driving

  • They start their engines and hit the roads throughout the Kingdom
  • End of driving ban is crowning achievement so far of Saudi Vision 2030

Women throughout Saudi Arabia waited for the stroke of midnight, turned the keys in the ignition, fired up their engines — and hit the road to a bright new future.

It was the moment they had waited for since King Salman issued the royal decree on September 26, 2017, to lift the driving ban on women. 

Just after midnight on Saturday and in the first minutes of Sunday, Samah Algosaibi grabbed the keys to her family’s 1959 Corvette C1 and drove out of the driveway of her beach house in Khobar.
“We are witnessing history in the making as we look toward the dawn of a promising future,” said Algosaibi, the first female board member of Ahmad Hamad Algosaibi & Bros.

“As a businesswoman in Saudi Arabia, I am grateful for the women’s empowerment movement taking place. Today, I am honored to be sitting behind the wheel of change.”

Another woman to hit the road after midnight was Lina Almaeena, a member of the Saudi Shoura Council. “It feels very liberating,” she said about driving her mother’s Lexus.
Almaeena, also the co-founder and director of Jeddah United Sports Co, had exchanged her UAE license for a Saudi one. 

“I am thrilled!” Sarah Alwassia, 35, a nutritionist in Jeddah, told Arab News. “I learnt how to drive 18 years ago in the States where I got my driving license. I can’t believe that the day to drive in my own home town has come.”

Alwassia obtained her first American license when she was 18 years old in 2000, and had it exchanged for a Saudi license on June 6 in Jeddah. She explained that she is a mother, and this change provided comfort for her and her family. It also comes with various benefits, such as taking quick action in emergencies, and economic benefits such as saving money instead of paying for a driver when she needs to run errands. 

“I will be driving my kids to school and picking them up in comfort and privacy,” she said.

Women in the Kingdom commented on how this event is changing the course of their lives. “Independence is a huge thing for me,” Alwassia said. “Driving is one small part of it. I am very optimistic of the change that our loving country has made.”  

Alwassia applauds the efforts the country has made to support women. “I am confident that driving in the beginning will be pleasant, since our country has made all of the effort to support women and to protect them.
“I think our society was looking forward for this change, and I am sure the majority will adapt fast.

“I feel safe, our country did everything to make this transition pleasant and safe for every woman behind the wheel. I am really thankful to witness this historic moment and I am so happy for all the women in Saudi Arabia, especially my daughters.”
Sahar Nasief, 64, a retired lecturer from the European languages and Literature Department at King Abdulaziz University, said: “Nothing could describe my feelings. I can't wait to get on the road.”
Nasief received a very special gift from Ford for this occasion.

“They gave me a 2018 Expedition to drive for three days, a Mustang California Special,” she told Arab News.

Nasief obtained her Saudi license on June 7. She also holds a British license and two American licenses. “Now, I have my national license too,” she said. 

She also said the lifting of the ban provided a sense of relief. “I feel that I can practice one of my rights, and I don't have to live at the mercy of my driver any more.”
Society has been demanding such a change for years, “as it will take the physical and economic burden off most men.”
Pointing to the anti-harassment law, Nasief said: “I feel very confident especially after announcing the strict harassment law.”
Joumana Mattar, 36, a Jordanian interior designer, exchanged her Jordanian driver’s license and obtained a Saudi one on June 11. 

“I had my Jordanian license since I was 18 years old, and the moment I heard about the opening of exchanging foreign licenses, I immediately booked an appointment,” she said.
Mattar said she looks forward to the change in so many ways. “I'm finally in control of my time, schedule and privacy.” 

Mattar said she is both confident and anxious about the event. “I'm anxious only for feeling that I'm part of a huge first step for women driving in the Kingdom, but I'm confident also because of the support that I'm getting from my husband and family.
“Every first step is the hardest. Society is facing a huge change, but I'm positive because this change is done and supported by the government and Vision 2030.”

Mattar said she feels secure now. “I'm in control of any case I'm facing.”

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