In 2018, Saudi Arabia will be opening up its first cinema theatre in 35 years. The development comes just months after Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, vowed to "return" to a "moderate Islam that is open to all religions".
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the most powerful players in the Arab world. It is an oil dependent nation with the second-largest proven petroleum reserves in the world and is the largest exporter of petroleum. It is the largest economy in the Arab world. The Al Saud dynasty holds a monopoly of political power. Saudi Arabia was established in 1932 by King Abd-al-Aziz who has since been succeeded by various sons.
The region, while economically developed, is also accused of violating human rights. The country follows the Wahhabi interpretation of Islamic law which dictates harsh punishments including public beheadings for a range of crimes. This has been criticized by international rights organisations.
It is considered as one of the most oppressive countries for women. It has been reported that Saudi Arabian women must have male guardians at all times to make critical decisions on their behalf. This has been unofficially imposed for several years. In April 2017, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman issued an order to all government agencies that women should not be denied access to government services because they do not have a male guardian’s consent unless specific rules require a male guardian. Currently, women can’t marry, divorce, travel, open a bank account, get a job or have elective surgery without permission from their male guardians. Recently, the nation has lifted a ban, and now allows women to drive cars.
Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia. He is also the youngest minister of defense in the world. He was appointed Crown Prince in June 2017 following his father's decision to remove Muhammad bin Nayef from all positions.
In recent months, the new leadership in Saudi Arabia has expressively been leaning towards a more modern outlook. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in his Vision 2030 program has vowed to modernize the country.
In yet another indication that Saudi Arabia is moving towards a more moderate and modern society, the country has announced that it will be opening its first cinema in 35 years. The kingdom used to have theatres in the 1970s. However, as clerics gained more power in the region, they effectively banned them.
The present agreement is with AMC Entertainment Holdings and states that 40 cinema theatres will be opened in the next five years. In total, the nation is planning on setting up a total of 2,500 screens by 2030. This is also an economic move by the government as it hopes to attract nearly $1 billion in annual box office sales.
AMC chief executive Adam Aron said, “We think it’s going to be the prettiest movie theatre in the world. It’s a dramatic building.” “The restoration of cinemas will ... help boost the local economy by increasing household spending on entertainment while supporting job creation” culture minister Awwad Al Awwad said.
In the recent years, Prince Salman has spoken in favor of progressive development. He seemed to insinuate that the extremist rules introduced in the Kingdom was a result of the 1979 Iranian revolution and it should be eradicated. Salman noted, “What happened in the last 30 years is not Saudi Arabia. What happened in the region in the last 30 years is not the Middle East. After the Iranian revolution in 1979, people wanted to copy this model in different countries, one of them is Saudi Arabia. We didn’t know how to deal with it. And the problem spread all over the world. Now is the time to get rid of it.”
However, some experts remain skeptical. "I don't think it ushers a new era for freedom of expression," Joseph Fahim, an Egyptian film critic and programmer, told Al Jazeera. There have been several films made in Saudi [Arabia] before, and TV production is established in there. There are concrete rules no Saudi filmmaker can transcend, namely anything related to the royal family.”
Our assessment is that the latest development is in line with Prince Salman’s vision of reverting Saudi Arabia into a moderate nation. Its conservative laws have incurred international condemnation in the past. We believe that the Islamic world is now under some pressure to take progressive steps that will ensure social transformation. However, it should also be noted that such a move by the Crown Prince will anger the nation’s staunch conservatives.