Cinemas in Saudi Arabia

Cinemas are officially banned in KSA and people go over to Bahrain or UAE to watch movies in person (or buy pirated versions of all movies for home viewing).

Interestingly, last week the movie “Manahi”  was shown in Jeddah and Taif. It was a HUGELY successful and popular event that ran for some 10 days. The head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of  Vice, Abdullah Al-Gaith spoke out against it: “Our position on this is clear – ban it. That is because cinema is evil and we do not need it. We have enough evil already.”

What is odd is the about-face that showed up in today’s news. The official comment is now  “We are not against having cinema if it shows the good and does not violate Islamic law”.

“Manahi” was produced by Rotana Holdings, a media company owned by Prince Waleed bin Talal. The next movie,“Eyal Manfouha,” also by Rotana is already in the works.

This is one more indicator that the wind of change is blowing. It would be better if KSA started developing a good media/movie censoring/cleaning-up board that can set standards for what can and cannot be shown, and how to allow movies from Europe, USA and Asia to be shown. Resistance is futile- it’s a matter of time before assimilation is complete (don’t you love hijacking corny lines from Star Trek?)

UAE has already started investing in becoming the next Hollywood/Bollywood and given the global economy there is a huge chance that “Dollywood” will succeed to some extent. Maybe Jollywood (from Jeddah) will give Dollywood a run for their money in the future…

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Change is in the air

The world is closing in/ did you ever think
That we could be so close/ like brothers?
The future’s in the air/ I can feel it everywhere
Blowing with the wind of change

Take me to the magic of the moment/ On a glory night
Where the children of tomorrow dream away
In the wind of change

The wind of change
blows straight into the face of time,
like a stormwind that will ring the
freedom bell / for peace of mind.

-Scorpions, 1990

KSA is changing, slowly but surely. Sometimes it seems too slow and we get caught up with pointing fingers and complaining however the indicators are all in place.

Indicators are funny little things- tiny blips within the sea of noise, often meaningless unless examined together, within a context. In the case of KSA, they are all pointing in the one direction- social reform.

Every month, every week and almost every day, there is at least one story about some sort of change happening officially. They range from drafting new laws on sexual harassment to conferences and panels on divorce, child abuse, women in the workplace. In addition, combating extremism at its very core is also making the headlines. Crossroads of Arabia has links to many other articles.

The attitude changes are hard to document but can be seen through actions. From the bling on abayas (even in Riyadh) to the popularity of Facebook, these are all subtle (or not so subtle) indicators of changes to come.

The question is, do we have the patience to allow a change to gradually emerge? There are three competing generations within KSA: the ruling/decision-making elders in their 60s (and up), the businessmen in their 40s (and up) and the youth chafing for change in their 20s (and up).

stuck in a rut

Considering the wealth and resources that KSA possesses, one often wonders why the country is not light years ahead of where it is currently. A few of the larger issues that seem to be holding the country back are:

  • lack of systems- they’re either broken, archaic, or not enforced
  • complacency- people live life in a daze, ok with the status quo, with limited ambitions and zest for achievement
  • arrogance- the ethnic hierarchies, racism, gender inequality and sheer arrogance is astounding
  • education- not only are their insufficient resources for studies, there is a lack of emphasis on the value of education
  • tussle between religion and politics

On the other hand, there are plenty of things that can be capitalized on for improvement:

  • political stability- this might be surprising to many but monarchies (constitutional monarchies at least) are more stable in this region than any of the so claimed democracies. I’ll post some of my earlier research on this topic sometime
  • resource availability- given the short to medium term dependence on oil within the global markets, there is no danger of lack of finances. On the human side there is a huge untapped supply of potential employees (women!)
  • control and constituents- the population here revers the monarchy and are wiling to follow the royal decrees. This is akin to China and the control it held over its population some 10-15years ago and provides an almost “prefect” environment for implementing gradual change.

Each of these points will be elaborated in future blog posts!