A Saudi mother’s first cinema trip with daughter revives happy memories

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The writer and her daughter Lilly share popcorn on their first cinema outing. (AN/Huda Bashatah)
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Updated 21 April 2019

A Saudi mother’s first cinema trip with daughter revives happy memories

  • A year on from cinema’s historic return to Saudi Arabia, a mother recalls a moment of movie magic with her daughter
  • Lilly was in awe. And I was a very proud mom, indeed

JEDDAH: April 18, 2018 will go down as one of the most celebrated dates in Saudi Arabia’s history with the first screening of a film in over 35 years in the capital Riyadh. 

Those outside the Kingdom may struggle to understand the significance of this event, but for Saudis unable to attend a film screening on home soil for more than three decades, its importance was immediately apparent. 

After spending over half of my life abroad, I returned recently to my home country to find ambitious plans and events taking place all around me — but the one thing I had my heart set on was attending a movie of my choosing with my young daughter. 

It was my escape from reality. Two hours in a cinema, shrouded by darkness and popcorn in hand, was what I needed to disconnect from the noisy and distracting world outside. I have been to too many movies to count, but to visit a cinema at home, that truly is one for the books.

My 6-year-old daughter Lilly and I decided on “Dumbo.” Since we are both fans of Disney movies, it was only fitting that our first visit to a cinema in Saudi Arabia would be to watch this classic remake.

With a click of a mouse, I was able to book and buy three tickets online, with no need to queue. 

“It is my first time, mommy, and your one million trillionth time” — Lilly

Arriving at Jeddah’s Red Sea Mall VOX theaters, Lilly was in awe. The magnificent life-size poster of Dumbo greeted us as we rode up the stairs. “Mommy, it’s real! He’s still a baby with big blue eyes,” Lilly said, running toward her uncle and reaching for the big bucket of popcorn. 

VOX cinemas really had gone all-out to ensure the cinema experience matched that in the US with a seemingly limitless choice of popcorn flavors, candy, chocolates and more. 

“It is my first time, mommy, and your one million trillionth time,” Lilly said. “I can have chocolate and popcorn together.” 

The halls were packed with excited film fans, all talking about the movies they were about to watch. Children running around excitedly, and the mix of savory and sweet popcorn were a nostalgic reminder of good times spent in cinemas as a child.  

Walking ahead of a group of children, I could hear squeals of delight. With Lilly holding my hand tightly, we walked to room number 9 and opened the door.

The place was packed, but it was great to see how everyone stayed in their designated seats. I could see Lilly’s eyes grow wide as the commercials began and little jolts from the surround sound system shocked her slightly — my feelings exactly.  She jumped with glee as she saw Disney’s Cinderella Castle appear on screen. 

Throughout the film, I would catch glimpses of my young one laughing as Dumbo peeked out of a bundle of hay, showing his great big ears, and then pouting with sadness at the scene where his mother is taken away.

A heavy sense of nostalgia hit me right there and then. I was only a year older than Lilly when I saw my first movie.  My mother and father took me to see the Disney classic “The Lion King.” I recall laughing at Zazu when the hippo sat on him, jumping in our seats with popcorn flying as we danced to the music, and feeling intense sadness when Mufasa was killed.  

My emotions were raw and real, and this was the experience I wanted my daughter to have. To see and feel, to enjoy the cinema  just as much as I do.  

As with any children’s movie, my little one’s curiosity was at its peak, and every now and then Lilly would point and ask questions, or notice the strong resemblance between the CGI form of the adorable flying elephant and the cartoon. A child with a good eye for detail, and a “proud mom moment” right there. 

Thirty minutes in to the film, I could sense the agitation of the young viewers around me.  Curiosity got the better of one boy who zoomed past, skipping down the steps and trying to touch the screen.

A young girl twirled with her dress in front of the viewers, imitating a scene from the film, while another boy squealed past me with his dress shirt open, running to the door with his father in tow, as he screamed “bathroom!” with everyone laughing.   

By the end of the film, parents and children were cheering and clapping together as the  credits appeared.  I looked to my left to see excitement in my little one’s eyes.

“We definitely need to do that again, mom!” she said.

“Definitely? When did you grow up so fast?” I replied.

“Mama. I’m 6 and I just watched an elephant fly in the big TV. I can say big words, too.”

Looking around, I saw the smiling faces of children and parents, couples holding hands, fathers and sons excitedly reviewing their favorite scenes, and little ones covering their eyes as they adjusted to the outside light.  

It’s the little things that count, and to add our first shared movie experience in our home country to our list of firsts makes it even more special.

Lilly having a good time. (Arab News photo)

Rights and benefits of the Saudi ‘Green Card’

The Kingdom is continuing its development and reform plans within Vision 2030 to develop its economy and enhance the attractiveness of its investment environment. (AFP)
Updated 20 May 2019

Rights and benefits of the Saudi ‘Green Card’

  • New visa move will allow residents and expatriates to play a more active role in Saudi economy
  • Media reports suggest the "Privileged Iqama" could cost as much as SR800,000 for a long-term version or SR100,000 for the one-year version

JEDDAH: The Um Al-Qura newspaper, the official gazette of the Saudi government, has published new information concerning the laws and regulations of the Privileged Iqama, widely known as the Saudi “Green Card.” It also carried the conditions under which the Iqama can be canceled.
Following the announcement of the Saudi Cabinet’s approval of the Privileged Iqama residency permit, as previously reported by Arab News, the new information offers a further look at the Privileged Resident Permit (iqama) scheme.
The iqama was first proposed in 2016 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and was approved by the Cabinet last week. It will for the first time allow foreign nationals to work and live in Saudi Arabia without a sponsor.
The scheme will enable expatriates to permanently reside, own property and invest in the Kingdom. An authorized draft of the new Privileged Iqama system offers a number of benefits to highly skilled expatriates and owners of capital funds that will not require a Saudi sponsor.
A special committee has been given 90 days to determine regulations governing the mechanisms of the scheme, such as fees for applicants, which have not been yet determined by the authorities.
Fahad bin Juma, vice chairman of the Shoura Council Financial Committee said that eligibility for the Saudi Green Card will be determined by a number of bodies headed by the Ministry of Commerce and Investment, as reported by Al-Watan newspaper.
He also added that in order to be eligible, applicants must possess scientific or professional skills that are not abundantly available in the Kingdom, or they should be company owners who can invest in the country.
The holder of the Privileged Iqama will be deemed resident for the purpose of applying other statutory provisions, especially tax provisions, regardless of how much time he spends outside the Kingdom in the course of the year.
The applicant must be over 21 years of age, must have a valid passport, must not have a criminal record, and must provide a health report dated within 6 months of the application presenting proof that the applicant is free of infectious diseases. In the case of applications from within the Kingdom, the applicant must obtain a legal resident permit before applying.
The Privilege Iqama rights include possession of private means of transport and any other movable properties that an expat is allowed to acquire as per the Saudi law, employment in private sector establishments and transfer between them (this includes the beneficiary’s family members) except for occupations and jobs from which non-Saudi nationals are banned. The rights also include freedom to leave the Kingdom and return to it independently, use of the queues designated for Saudi nationals when entering and exiting the Kingdom through its ports, and doing business under the foreign investment system.
Under the system, two categories are provided to applicants, an extended iqama and temporary iqama subject to renewal.
Upon approval of the application, according to Article 5, the applicant must pay the fees specified by the designated authorities; the holder will be deemed resident for the purpose of applying other statutory requirements, especially the tax provisions, regardless of how much time he spends outside the Kingdom in the course of the year.
The Privileged Iqama does not entitle the holder to Saudi citizenship.
The holder of the Privileged Iqama, will enjoy several rights, including residence in Saudi Arabia with his family, the right to issue visitor’s visas for relatives as defined by the MOI regulations, the recruitment of domestic workers, the possession of property for residential, commercial and industrial purposes with the exclusion of Makkah, Madinah and border areas as per the regulations. The holder will also be able to utilize property in Makkah and Madinah for a period not exceeding 99 years.
The Ministries of Justice and Commerce and Investment shall establish the necessary mechanisms to ensure the beneficiary’s access to an instrument of utilization issued by the Notary Public. This right will be enforceable by transfer to others according to the rules set by the committee.
Saudi Arabia’s minister of Economy and Planning, Mohammad Al-Tuwaijri, said that the Privilege Iqama law approved by the Saudi Cabinet confirms that the Kingdom is continuing its development and reform plans in accordance with Vision 2030 to develop its economy and enhance the attractiveness of its investment environment.
The Privilege Iqama aims to make residents and expatriates an active part of the Saudi economy, promote consumption growth by increasing quality purchasing power and economic activity in various sectors, establish more small and medium enterprises, and generate jobs for Saudi citizens.
The Privileged Iqama can be canceled if the holder did not comply with the obligations stipulated in Article 7 of the law, waivered his residency, and/or passed away or was no longer eligible.
Several matters could lead to the cancelation of the Iqama, such as providing false information in the application, a conviction for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a period exceeding 60 days and/or a fine exceeding SR100,000, or a judicial decision to deport the holder from the Kingdom.
The cancelation or termination of the Privilege Iqama does not entail the transfer of the rights and benefits, obtained in accordance with Article 2 of the law, to the holder’s family. However, if a family member met the conditions of this law and its regulations, he may apply for the Privileged Iqama.
In the event of the cancelation or termination of the holder’s Iqama or any of his family members, the Privilege Iqama Center will, in coordination with the designated authorities, consider and remedy any consequences that may result therefrom in accordance with the law and its regulations.