When watching films was pure family fun: An Arab News veteran looks back at what movie night used to be

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Moroccan singer Abdelwahab Al-Doukkali, shown in this 2013 photo, performed a concert live on stage at the Ministry of Education hall in Jeddah before the Kingdom banned cinemas and concerts. (Wikimedia Commons)
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One of the movies former Arab News editor in chief Khaled Almaeena remembers being in shown in Jeddah when he was My Fair Lady.
Updated 29 April 2018
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When watching films was pure family fun: An Arab News veteran looks back at what movie night used to be

  • This new change needed a political will and a person who would pick up the cudgel and say “enough is enough.”
  • The Saudi people are like others around the globe. They want to be a part of that world culture, music, art and beauty.

JEDDAH: Lately, there have been many gasps by the Western media over the Saudi government’s decision to allow movie theaters and cinemas in the Kingdom. 

Ever since Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ushered in a more tolerant, acceptable and modern era, there has been a sea change in Saudi society. 

The fear of the harbingers of darkness were put to rest when, despite shrieks of hellfire and damnation and the wrath of the Almighty, nothing happened. Art, culture and music festivals were held in an atmosphere of total propriety. There were no unwanted incidents as Saudi men and women, families, young and old, mingled and behaved like any normal spectator would around the globe.

As far as movies are concerned, they are not new phenomena: To people like me and to senior citizens in Jeddah, Makkah, Taif and even Madinah, movies were shown. My uncle visited Riyadh in 1956 and saw a movie there.

Aramco had its theater in Dhahran. Petromin had a weekly movie show on Kilo 4, the old Makkah road which had a mixed congregation. The most famous was the Jamjoom Theater. It was owned by Fua Jamjoom, a Jeddawi with a cavalier attitude who dared those who came to close the theater. Tickets for an air-conditioned hall were priced at SR5. Non-air-conditioned seats cost SR3.

Movie-goers at Jamjoom Theater would always grab a bite at Shawarma Shakir, either before the cinema or after. It was a famous shawarma joint that many enjoyed, along with refreshments. Across the city, near the seaport and in the Hindawiya district, there were several other makeshift theaters which showed both Arabic and English films. The area would be sprayed with “Raid” mosquito repellant. At the Jamjoom center, I saw many movies. My mom was a great fan of James Bond, and we saw several ones: “From Russia with Love,” “Goldfinger” and “Dr. No.”

I remember my mother crying during “Love Story” when Ali MacGraw’s character became ill. We saw “Deliverance,” starring Jon Voight, the father of Angelina Jolie. And of course many Arabic ones, especially those with Ismail Yaseen, the famous Egyptian comedian.

Al-Attas Hotel also had a hall where we used to go to see movies with my cousins. It was a normal life. Music and culture flourished. At the Jeddah radio station where I worked part time, we were our own disc jockeys.

I saw the play “My Fair Lady” in Jeddah, where the audience was entertained in an almost Haymarket-type of presentation. The famous Moroccan singer Abdelwahab Al-Doukkali performed a concert live on stage at the Ministry of Education hall in Al-Baghdadiah district in Jeddah. Yes, the Ministry of Education!

He sang his classic song “Marsool Al Hobb” (Messenger of Love) to an enthusiastic crowd. As Mary Hopkin would say: “Those were the days.” And then a pall of gloom and darkness descended in 1980. However, I do not wish to focus on that period but am stating now that this new change needed a political will and a person who would pick up the cudgel and say “enough is enough.”

The Saudi people are like others around the globe. They want to be a part of that world culture, music, art and beauty. And Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has opened that door. 


UAE body lauds Saudi Arabia’s efforts at enhancing security

Updated 17 January 2019
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UAE body lauds Saudi Arabia’s efforts at enhancing security

  • “The Kingdom acts as a safety net for the Arab and Islamic worlds,” says Federal National Council chair

JEDDAH: A prominent member of the UAE Federal National Council (FNC) has praised the Kingdom’s efforts at enhancing security and development.

Amal Al-Qubaisi, FNC chairperson and speaker, met with members of the Saudi Shoura Council during a delegation visit to the UAE headed by Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, deputy chairman of the Saudi-Emirati Parliamentary Friendship Committee.

Al-Qubaisi reiterated that unity on various regional and international issues enhances security and stability.

“The Kingdom acts as a safety net for the Arab and Islamic worlds,” she said during a meeting at the FNC headquarters in Abu Dhabi. “King Salman is a father figure to both the Saudi and Emirati people.”

Al-Qubaisi said Saudi-Emirati strategic relations are reflected in coordination efforts between the Shoura Council and the FNC and commended the work of Shoura Council Chairman Abdullah Al-Asheikh.

Al-Ghamdi said strong fraternal relations between the two countries would strengthen regional unity and counter foreign actors attempting to sow the seeds of discord.

He also reiterated that the two nations share a common history, lineage and culture.

During the meeting, the two sides discussed ways that the council and FNC could enhance parliamentary relations.

The delegation also met with the Gulf Cooperation Council Parliamentary Friendship Group, which was headed by Mohammed Al-Ameri, chairman of the FNC Defense, Interior and Foreign Affairs Committee. FNC Secretary-General Ahmed Al-Dhaheri was also present at the meeting.

Delegation members also partially attended a regular FNC session, in which they got a glimpse into the council’s day-to-day operations.