Saudi Arabia: Cinemas, Opera House Could be Opened

The government of Saudi Arabia has said that one day it could open cinemas as well as build an opera house. This week, the man who is spearheading the entertainment reforms in the kingdom played down the opposition by the powerful religious authorities of changes they consider sinful.

During the 1970s, Saudi Arabia had a few cinemas, but its clerics persuaded authorities to shutter them reflecting the increased Islamist influence across the Arab region during that time.

Cinemas remain banned in the country and while there are concerts that started being held in 2017, clerics continue to frown about them.

However, the government did promise it would give its cultural scene a shake-up with a set of reforms in its Vision 2030 plan announced last year, and aimed at the creation of jobs and opening up the cloistered lifestyles of Saudis.

The changes have also been planned as a way to capture as much as $20 billion that is spent overseas by traveling Saudis, who have become accustomed to trips abroad to see different shows, visit amusement parks and more.

The General Entertainment Authority chairman Ahmed al-Khatib said that conservatives who have criticized the new reforms were learning gradually that many Saudis, a majority of who are less than 30, wanted the changes.

The GEA chairman has a goal of creating entertainment that would be 99% of what is happening in New York and London, although he is aware that following decades of conservatism in the culture that kind of change will not take place quickly.

He added that some Saudis remain conservative, other are liberal while the majority are currently moderate. He concluded by saying Saudis travel, they see movies at cinemas, they enjoy concerts, but all in other countries.

He hopes that the moderates, or what he considers 80% of the current population, will be the ones that go to these places once opened.

Khatib added that authorities would be providing other options for entertainment for those who are conservative and that all the participants in the events must adhere to the strict Islamic principles.

However, the top religious authority in Saudi Arabia, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al el-Sheikh calls concerts and cinemas corrupting. He believes entertainment round the clock could open doors to rotten or atheistic films, as well as encourages mixing of sexes.

The entertainment plans of the kingdom are economically motivated with prices of oil being low, authorities embarked on reforms to diversify their economy and create new sectors that would employ Saudis.

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