Saudi Arabia signs London entertainment deals despite Khashoggi murder

Saudi Arabia signs London entertainment deals despite Khashoggi murder
A host of international stage shows, musicals, festivals, TV shows, open-air cinema events and other attractions will soon be hosted in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom said.
4 min read
07 February, 2019
The deals were signed after the General Entertainment Authority Chairman visited London [Getty]
Saudi Arabia signed several agreements with companies in London to expand its entertainment industry, the kingdom confirmed on Thursday.

“Among the agreements signed is an MoU (memorandum of understanding) with ‘Flying Music’ to organise a number of global theatrical shows such as ‘Thriller’,” the Saudi government said in a statement. 

London-based magician and illusionist Dynamo will also visit the kingdom to perform a live show while Luna Cinema is set to provide a range of open-air cinema screenings.

Saudi-owned Arab News said a host of international stage shows, musicals, festivals, TV shows, open-air cinema events and other attractions are heading to the kingdom” after a visit to London by General Entertainment Authority Chairman Turki Al-Sheikh who signed the agreements.

Meanwhile, 1001 inventions will offer a series of educational exhibitions while Design Lab Experience will host entertainment tents in the region during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan, the local daily said.

The History Channel’s ‘Ultimate Soldier Challenge’ will create its own local version of the show using Saudi soldiers.

Ferrari, gaming festival Insomnia, and owner of the world-renowned Madame Tussauds, Merlin Entertainment, as well as IMG will also take part in the kingdom’s latest entertainment drive.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [MbS] has loosened the kingdom's strict laws on public entertainment, by allowing music concerts, cinema screenings, and mixed-gender plays to take place in the kingdom.

But analysts say the relaxation of conservative restrictions are an attempt by the crown prince to curry favour with young Saudis, and halt a brain drain of educated nationals to more liberal countries.

In December, the kingdom hosted a number of globally recognised artists and entertainers during a music festival on the sidelines of the E formula tournament, including Enrique Iglesias, The Black Eyed Peas, OneRepublic and Arabic popstar Amr Diab.

But activists from the Gulf region slammed David Guetta after videos emerged showing the superstar DJ remixing pro-regime songs during the concert in Riyadh.

"Disgusting that David Guetta is not only performing in Saudi, but playing songs praising the king - while leading human rights defenders are in prison, and we have reports that the women human rights defenders have been subjected to torture," Bahraini rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja said on Twitter.

Saudi Arabia’s latest line of international sports and entertainments events has been dogged by controversy following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October, which prompted business leaders and heads of state and business to boycott a major investment conference in Riyadh. 

According to Turkish officials, Khashoggi was killed, dismembered and had his remains dissolved in acid following an assassination order from high-ranking Saudi leaders.

Tiger Woods reportedly refused to play in the European Tour's inaugural event hosted in the kingdom. According to a Telegraph report, the 14-time major-winner turned down a bumper pay cheque - $2.5 million, believed to be his biggest overseas fee. 

In October, former British-Yemeni superstar boxer, Prince Naseem Hamed took an unexpected political stance during Saudi Arabia's first professional boxing event, where he highlighted the war in neighbouring Yemen to a packed out stadium in Jeddah.

The British-born boxer, who is of Yemeni origin, then went on to chant a popular Arabic nationalistic slogan while on the ring, stating "With our souls and our blood, we sacrifice for you O' Yemen".

"Yemen is going through some hard times, please do not forget to pray for Yemen," he added, speaking in Arabic.

The following month, Saudi Arabia hosted the World Wrestling Entertainment's [WWE] controversial 'Crown Jewel' event, prompting some fans to accuse the sports entertainment firm of accepting "Saudi blood money".

2019 plans

Running with the bulls and a NBA basketball match will be some of the highlights of Saudi Arabia's entertainment calendar in 2019, as the kingdom seeks to shake-up its image following negative publicity surrounding the murder of Khashoggi.

Saudi Arabia's controversial General Entertainment Authority chief Turki al-Sheikh - a close confidant of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - unveiled the  plans for the year, as the kingdom attempts to promote sports and other events.

Among the sporting events planned are an NBA game, although no details were provided on which teams will take part and when.

Former football stars David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane will also visit the kingdom, according to the entertainment authority, but no further information was available.

There are also plans for a recreation of the "Running of the Bulls", the famous bull-run in Spain's Pamplona.

Musicians Jay Z, DJ Khaled and Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu is also due to perform, although no dates have been set.

London's Madame's Tussaud's wax museum will also open, according to Al-Sheikh.

Follow us on Twitter: @The_NewArab