Saudi Arabia delays launch of entertainment city

Saudi Arabia delays launch of entertainment city
Saudi Arabia's King Salman was set to open the launch of the entertainment city construction on Wednesday, which was delayed three days without a reason given.
3 min read
25 April, 2018
More than 5,000 events are planned for 2018 [Getty]

Saudi Arabia has delayed the launch of its entertainment city three days, part of a series of multi-billion dollar projects as the oil-reliant kingdom seeks to diversify.

The launch - scheduled to take place on Wednesday - was meant to signal construction of the new project in Qiddiya, southwest of Riyadh.

"King Salman will inaugurate next Saturday the Qiddiya project, which is the new entertainment, sports and cultural destination in the kingdom," the state-run Saudi Press Agency said, without explaining the delay.

Officials expect the construction for the first phase of the development, touted as Saudi's Disneyland, to be complete by 2022.

Construction for the first phase of development, which would include high-end theme parks, motor sport facilities and a safari area, is expected to be completed in 2022, officials say.

The facility highlights a "relentless effort to develop giga-projects that will help achieve many direct and indirect economic returns", project official Fahd bin Abdullah Tounsi was quoted as saying in a government statement on Monday.

The ambitious project - announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in October last year - will establish a 26,500 square km (10,230 square mile) zone dedicated to several industries, including biotechnology, water, food, energy, water and entertainment.

In February, Saudi Arabia's General Entertainment Authority said it would stage more than 5,000 festivals and concerts in 2018, double the number of last year, and pump $64 billion in the sector in the coming decade.

Saudi's young crown prince has been at the helm of a programme of reforms - known as Vision 2030 - looking to modernise the country.

The ambitious young leader aims to revive the Saudi economy by diversifying it away from its reliance on oil exports, as well as driving up domestic spending through the creation of cinemas, music venues and theme parks.

Long known for its ultra-conservative mores, the kingdom has embarked on a wide-ranging programme of social and economic reforms driven by Mohammed bin Salman.

Recent months have witnessed concerts, a Comic-Con festival and a mixed-gender national day celebration that saw people dancing in the streets to thumping electronic music for the first time.

The newfound openness, which includes plans to allow women to drive from June this year, has been hailed by some as a crucial liberalisation of Saudi society.

Critics have pointed to continued restrictions however, especially on women who remain under a strict "guardianship" system that gives male relatives significant control over their lives.

Protests have also followed the 32-year-old prince as he embarked on his western tour, who also holds the position of defence minister, over the ongoing Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen which has devastated the country and killed thousands of civilians.

The prince is also accused of orchestrating a crackdown on opposition in the kingdom, including rounding up politicians and businessman on trumped up corruption charges.