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. 


13,230 families benefit from ‘Sakani’ program in Saudi Arabia

More than 157,000 families benefited from the program during 2018. (SPA)
Updated 17 June 2019
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13,230 families benefit from ‘Sakani’ program in Saudi Arabia

  • More than 157,000 families benefited from the program during 2018

RIYADH: The Ministry of Housing’s “Sakani” program has helped 13,230 families registered on its Real Estate Development Fund list with housing options and finance solutions during May.
This includes 5,835 families who live in their own homes, bringing the total number of families benefiting from the program in different regions of the Kingdom since the start of the year to 68,195.
The Sakani program announced the names of beneficiaries and their national ID numbers through the link https://sakani-names.housing.sa or via the program portal.
More than 157,000 families benefited from the program during 2018.
Ministry of Housing spokesman Saif Al-Suwailem said that Sakani continues to provide its services to beneficiaries according to their needs and abilities. The ministry is keen to provide better services in line with the “Eskan” program, one of the Saudi Vision 2030 initiatives that aims to raise the proportion of residential ownership to 70 percent by 2030.
As part of Sakani’s efforts to provide suitable housing options, the program began to implement 53 new housing projects in different regions of the Kingdom, characterized by affordable prices for a large segment of citizens registered on the lists of the Ministry of Housing.
Al-Suwailem said that the ministry was keen to find solutions for Saudi families that help them to own the right home for them. SPA Riyadh