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

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. 


Saudi woman runs a seamless op to meet military demands

In the future, Al-Mutairi aims to build partnerships with global companies to develop the field. (Supplied)
Updated 48 min 59 sec ago

Saudi woman runs a seamless op to meet military demands

  • Turfah Al-Mutairi’s factory creates cutting-edge uniforms, and she hopes to expand beyond the Kingdom

RIYADH: Turfah bint Abdulrahman Al-Mutairi is the first Saudi woman to obtain a license from the General Authority for Military Industries (GAMI) for a military outfit factory.

The owner of Sondos Al-Dibaj factory, Al-Mutairi has a bachelor’s degree in textile engineering and started working in the field after graduating. She is now specialized in military equipment, including clothing that can protect against weapons of mass destruction and biological weapons, as well as fire-resistant clothing.
“My company is among the first five companies to get licensed in the field of military industries by GAMI,” Al-Mutairi told Arab News.
She said her factory works with international companies specialized in localizing production of military equipment.
These include a French company with which she has signed an agreement as a Saudi-French investment specializing in military uniforms. The clothing is designed to meet the needs of the Saudi military in the field.
“I started my career in design and textile as this was my major. Fashion and design depend on the concept more than on quantity,” she said. “There are industries, however, that depend on quantity, and this is found in the military sectors.”
She said her approach to working for the military sector was founded on two beliefs. The first is that, being a strategic sector, and from a security and political point of view, the industry should be local and domestic, and localizing it leads to self-sufficiency, Al-Mutairi said.
“The second reason is that my goal since graduation has been to be part of a cycle that seeks to create jobs for women. Textiles is one of the businesses in which women innovate, and opening production lines for this field has been my goal for over 20 years,” she added.
She has worked on the project since the establishment of her first factory 12 years ago, and she was among the first to demand the domestic production of military clothing.

Turfah bint Abdulrahman Al-Mutairi

The idea of localizing military industries had yet to be discussed when she first started her factory. Many of Al-Mutairi’s relatives work in the military field, which made her aware of the needs of the industry.

FASTFACTS

• The owner of Sondos Al-Dibaj factory, Al-Mutairi has a bachelor’s degree in textile engineering and started working in the field after graduating.

• She is specialized in military equipment, including clothing that can protect against WMDs, biological weapons, as well as fire-resistant clothing.

“I rang the bell at the AFED-2016 exhibition, which targeted the field of spare parts, not individual equipment. I spoke to Maj. Gen. Attia Al-Malki, head of the exhibition, and he was very understanding of my idea, so I took part in the exhibition,” she said, adding: “Here comes the importance of having an official who understands the requirements of the stage and has the flexibility that enables him to make a decision.”
The exhibition also gave Al-Mutairi the opportunity to work with international companies such as BAE Systems, which specializes in aircraft production. “I discussed with them their needs, and we began to fulfill their special requirements and supply them with spare parts for military aircraft, such as engine covers, and we have started to develop our capabilities to cover their delicate product requirements,” she added.
Al-Mutairi said that spare parts are also a type of textile with unique specifications, which can demonstrate the ability of manufacturers.
“Experience begins with a small part and extends to include other parts. We have thankfully passed the stages of installation and reached the stages of creativity and innovation,” she said. For centuries, Al-Mutairi said, fabric and textile production has been women’s work, adding that military uniforms have special requirements that must help soldiers navigate in the field and surrounding terrain.
“We therefore take into account the military requirements in terms of design and material, and this is what we are trying to develop. We had experience in designing the uniforms for the staff of the National Center for Security Operations (911). Maj. Gen. Abdulrahman Al-Saleh, the center’s director, supported us, and the uniform was approved by the Ministry of Interior,” she said.
Her factory also took part in designing Public Security uniform. Al-Mutairi said there are some similarities between the military uniforms of Saudi armed forces and those of other countries. The most common uniform is the No. 4 camouflage, which is worn during deployment.
“They are meant to look like the surrounding area, whether it is a desert or a mountain. These are thought-out patterns, and developments are continuously made by following the latest technologies in textile engineering and color combinations,” she said. “The process of changing them takes a long time and requires decisions by the military sector.” With the comprehensive change in the Saudi economy, cutting-edge systems are encouraging investment, especially in the military industry, she said.
The country goal to localize 50 percent of the military industry. Regulations by GAMI, new systems, and employing purchasing and negotiating powers will help manufacturers achieve the ambitious target, she said.
She added that military technology has valued customers, and it is guaranteed that the products will be bought if they are of high quality.
Al-Mutairi said it is an excellent investment opportunity for Saudis and foreign investors in particular, given that the Kingdom ranks fourth globally in military expenditure, “and you can imagine that 50 percent of this huge spending goes to local factories.”
She said that despite strong competition locally, her factory alone cannot cover market demands, and that the Kingdom needs more competition in the military sector.
“It also needs to localize, train and financially support talent, in addition to developing systems, such as a procurement system. We have also seen recent reforms such as arbitration in corporate cases, and this has become clear and fast, which encourages investment,” she added.
Al-Mutairi said another step that made things easier for industry investment was the development in completing government transactions, which have moved online. “These procedures in the Kingdom only take a few minutes and the response is received electronically.”
In the future, Al-Mutairi aims to build partnerships with international companies to develop the field, quoting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who said: “The sky is the limit.”
She has had meetings with Chinese and Greek industrial companies, and said she will work with any company that wishes to enter the Saudi market.
While the military industry always relies on patents, Al-Mutairi said it is an advanced stage in the field, and her factory is working toward that goal and focusing on it. But patents only come after mastering a skill, establishing work and starting it, she added.
Military uniforms resistant to weapons of mass destruction are unique to Al-Mutairi’s factory, as it is the only one in the Kingdom and the Gulf region to produce the clothing.
She added that the Sondos Paul Boye Company — a Saudi-French partnership — is the only company in the world to produce the uniform in two internationally known methods. “The first of which is using cellular textile, produced globally by one company, while the second uses spherical textile, produced by another specialized company.” Sondos Paul Boye also manufactures fire-resistant uniforms.
Al-Mutairi said her company is also looking to export uniforms soon.
She employs 170 workers in her factory, while there will be 213 new employees as part of a new expansion.
Many of the workers are women, she added, “because Saudi women by all means have taken over the foreign workers’ department as they complete their work very quickly and demand more tasks.”
This, she said, has added pressure on other workers to keep up with the speed and achievements of the 49 Saudi women working on the factory production line.