Saudi Arabia's entertainment chief outlines shake up of kingdom

Saudi Arabia's entertainment chief outlines shake up of kingdom
Riyadh could be '99 percent like' London or New York once new reforms on entertainment are implemented, said Ahmed al-Khatib, head of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority.
3 min read
30 April, 2017
Saudi Arabia is about to see reforms to develop the country's entertainment industry [AFP]
Saudi Arabia could be radically transformed in the coming years if new entertainment reforms are implemented, the country's entertainment authority has said, but warned that conservative voices will still be heeded. 

So dramatic are the planned changes Ahmed al-Khatib, head of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority, said places like Riyadh could be transformed "99 percent like" London or New York.

It follows an interview with the entertainment chief for Reuters news agency, with Khatib saying some of his comments had been misunderstood.

But he said new entertainment facilities will come to the kingdom, if Saudis want these changes.

"These measures take all demands, particularly the desires of the society which will benefit from these projects, into consideration," Khatib said, according to al-Arabiya.
His latest comments follow a controversial interview with Reuters when he said conservatuves they could "stay at home" if they didn't agree with the reforms.

Chief among them would be the re-introduction of cinemas as a new generation of Saudis and filmmakers in the kingdom encourage the government to readdress the ban.

Cinemas have been banned in Saudi Arabia since reforms in the 1980s, implemented to appease the growing powerful conservative voices in the kingdom.

Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has set out a shake-up of entertainment options for Saudis in his ambitious diversification plan Vision 2030.

The Saudi General Entertainment Authority was set up to see this vision come to fruition with Khatib heading the body, but many analysts believe these changes will be implemented slowly to avoid angering the country's ultra-conservative ulama.

Khatib outlined some of these plans in an interview with the news agency, saying moderates are becoming a growing influence in government.

"I believe we are winning the argument," he told Reuters, adding that the majority of Saudis are "moderate".

"They travel, they go to cinemas, they go to concerts. I am counting on the middle segment, which is about 80 percent of the population," he said. 

Riyadh is under growing pressure to relax tight controls in the country, where cinemas and concerts have been banned for decades with signs already that Saudi Arabia's government is serious at implementing changes.

In March, music made a comeback in the kingdom with performances by Rashed al-Majed and Mohammed Abdu in the Saudi capital.

The country is also preparing for an entertainment city which will see sports facilities, theme parks and a safari coming to the kingdom.

Yet the moves - such as talk of introducing cinema - have angered conservative figures in the country, including the hugely influential Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh who said the move could see "rotten and atheistic" films screened in the country.

Khatib said he understood the sensitivities with the reforms but ultimately changes will have to be made if the people will them.

So far, it appears to be the case and Saudis have speaking with their wallet. 

"Our start is very encouraging. Every event is sold out," he said.

This new spending could see the kingdom's flailing economy - struck by low oil prices - reinvigorated and help prevent a further brain drain as young educated Saudis leave the country for countries with concerts, cinemas and mixed gender cafes.