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…


parking lot picnics

Once again I find myself in transit so what better way to spend time than writing!

As you might know, Riyadh does not have many options for legal family entertainment. They have a plethora of malls, restaurants, a single museum and a zoo that has different entry days for men and women so families cannot go together. There are no cinemas, no public parks or anything else that might be a way for families to spend some time together.

Part of the reason is that this is the middle of a desert and there will always be constraints about what outdoor activities are possible. Part of the reason is the culture- the Kingdom seems hell-bent on ensuring that there are no public spots where people will meet within the larger cities. They even banned the walking of cats and dogs recently as it provided an opportunity for the different genders to interact.

Those who can afford it go to Bahrain for the weekends, however the working class cannot afford to do so. The local substitute we saw were parking lot picnics! It was an amazing site. Late one night in the IKEA parking lot I noticed a family having a picnic. I commented to hubby that it was rather strange. We moved down the aisle and that is when I noticed that it was not just the single family, there were tens of families doing the same thing. They had spread blankets on the ground, and had coolers of food and drink. Kids were playing soccer and tossing around balls.

It was rather surreal and really brought home how desperate families must be for a little bit of low-cost, high-quality, legal family time.