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Saudi Arabia’s Cultural Shake-Up

Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu performs during a concert in Riyadh on March 9, 2017.  Saudi Arabia's "Paul McCartney" took to the stage as the kingdom seeks to boost entertainment despite religious warnings of "depravity."   / AFP PHOTO / FAYEZ NURELDINE        (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)
Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu performs during a concert in Riyadh on March 9, 2017.
Saudi Arabia’s “Paul McCartney” took to the stage as the kingdom seeks to boost entertainment despite religious warnings of “depravity.”
/ AFP PHOTO / FAYEZ NURELDINE (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images)

Majalla – London

Saudi Arabia will open cinemas and build a world-class opera house as part of the government’s plans to shake-up the cultural scene with a set of “Vision 2030″ reforms. The vision was announced last year by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz last year, aimed at diversifying the economy and creating whole new sectors to employ young Saudis.

The man spearheading the kingdom’s entertainment reforms is Ahmad Al-Khatib, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority (GEA).

“Cinemas are not on the agenda in the short term but they will have a presence in Saudi Arabia,” Khatib told Reuters in an interview. “We will do it. I know how but I do not know when.”

Saudi Arabia began this year with a number of concerts in Jeddah and Riyadh which attracted huge crowds. “The start is very encouraging, the tickets for every event have sold out,” he said, noting that 10,000 more people than could be accommodated showed up for Comic-Con, a comic book convention held in Jeddah in February. Khatib added that the demand is phenomenal due to Saudi Arabia’s young demographic and the people’s high disposable income.

Vision 2030 seeks to develop the cultural sector in the Kingdom by establishing centres that embrace creativity and allow people to express their ideas and aspirations in art, theatre and cinema. The changes are also intended to capture up to a quarter of the $20 billion currently spent overseas by Saudis, who are accustomed to travelling abroad to see shows and visit amusement parks in nearby tourist hub Dubai or further afield.

According to Khatib, the GEA’s activities have created 20,000 jobs in only seven months and they are on target to surpass targets set out last year when the Vision 2030 was announced. He predicts that Saudis’ spending on entertainment will triple to 8 or 9 percent by 2030 .

Earlier this month, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Public Investment Fund, announced the launch of the Kingdom’s most ambitious leisure project to date, a sports and entertainment city in Al Qidiya, southwest of Riyadh, which would aim to draw regional visitors with resorts, golf courses, car racing tracks and a Six Flags theme park.

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