Boring Drama, Happy Endings

Cinema is back to Saudi Arabia… sort of.

Rotana, the entertainment group owned by the country’s richest man Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, premiered the comedy Menahi in Jeddah and Taif… but not in Riyadh. It was obvious that Rotana were trying to avoid a confrontation with the the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice aka the religious police. The Commission are much more powerful in Riyadh than they are in Jeddah and other places.

Still, it was obvious from the statements by Ayman Halwani, GM of Rotana, that they wanted to keep a low profile. They were wary of drawing too much attention to the screenings: “We’re worried that some of the conservatives might try to filibuster the opening,” he said. Have you ever heard of a movie producer who does not want his work to get much attention? Well, that’s Saudi Arabia for you, a country so full of contradictions it will make your head go dizzy.

Nevertheless, and despite the precautions taken by Rotana, the Commission unequivocally denounced the screenings. Sheikh Ibrahim al-Ghaith, head of the religious police told the press: “cinema is evil and we do not need it. We have enough evil already.” But one day later, al-Ghaith changed his tone on the subject. “We are not against having cinema if it shows the good and does not violate Islamic law,” he said. Now some people in the local media praised him for having the courage to take a U-turn, but many believe that he changed his line after a call from a senior royal.

In any case, his flip-floping did not seem to undermine the overwhelming enthusiasm of moviegoers who filled the theaters in Jeddah and Taif throughout the Eid holiday. The shows were all sold out and Rotana said they plan to produce 3 Saudi films this year.

So what does this mean to the country? Khalid al-Dakhil, former political sociology professor at KSU, thinks it is a giant step for the Saudi society. “(It shows) the erosion of the religious establishment’s influence, who realized they have to concede,” he told Reuters. I’m not sure that I agree with him on describing this step as “giant” but it certainly indicates the changes taking place in the country. Will 2009 see the official opening of the first proper movie theater in Saudi Arabia? I won’t bet on it, not just because betting is illegal here, but also because living in this place teaches you not to hold your breath when it comes to change.

Cinema, like women’s driving and other issues that we have been discussing for years now, has become a long, boring drama. Let’s just hope we will be graced by some happy endings.

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21 thoughts on “Boring Drama, Happy Endings

  1. It is lamentable that one can describe the ability to have a cinema theatre as being a giant step forward.

    We have a far journey ahead of us.

  2. Remember when the radio was first introduced to the Saudi society? [some] clerics declared a ban on it labeling it as “Satan’s voice”, but when they had seen that it could broadcast Quran and News and other good stuff, things changed.

    Same goes for almost every new utility, people resist what they don’t know, and before making any prejudgments people have to “analyze that” first, and see what are the different usages for that tool prior to putting a ban on it.

  3. I agree with Loay Al-Shareef.

    However, is it not regrettable that for the ulemaa the existence of a cinema is a “new” thing?

    Motion film has been in existence for more than 100 years.

    Perhaps the first films to be shown should be films that simply feature clerics speaking, as a way to assuage their irrational concerns.

  4. However, is it not regrettable that for the ulemaa the existence of a cinema is a “new” thing?

    Motion film has been in existence for more than 100 years.

    Perhaps the first films to be shown should be films that simply feature clerics speaking, as a way to assuage their irrational concerns.
    —————————————–
    Cinemas in Saudi Arabia aren’t actually new things. In the past, people would hire out screen projectors to watch Hollywood movies in public areas (Young boys usually ran the projectors so Women could also watch) but sometime in the 80’s people started showing highly sexual films to make a quick buck and the Religious police got pissed and blanket banned all public cinemas.

    Back on topic:

    For the love of god someone ban Rotana from making crap movies! I’d agree to Cinemas if it came from anybody but them!

  5. why everybody make a big deal out of it,,? even if they allow Cinema, they would cut every scene to the extent you’ll regret the idea of watching movies in the first place…

    what we really need is getting rid of this insane so-called religious police and everybody will live happily ever after.

    they are more important issues we should keep focus on, such the right of free speech, transparency, fighting corrupt, etc and i guess watching movies is not a priority for most, not now at least

  6. why everybody make a big deal out of it,,? even if they allow Cinema, they would cut every scene to the extent you’ll regret the idea of watching movies in the first place…
    ———————————————-

    You know they censor movies in Bahrain and UAE?
    Infact, if they do limited censoring like on TV channels and stuff I don’t see what’s the problem.

  7. I would offer the idea that a right to free speech includes a right to display and view cinema.

    Cinema is surely entertainment, but it can also be a method of reaching broad population groups with ideas and messages, while doing so in an entertaining manner.

  8. Yes it is, broke Saudi. Man I am talking about a website dedicated to this, sending faxes to people of influence, and things of this sort. I am sure that people as prolific as the visitors of this great blog could make a great change if they put their collective work together for it. We are on the good side of this remember? We are asking for the right thing.

  9. It maybe the right thing to me and you, but others see it as opening the door to the decay of morals. It’s a shit society we live in, but if you think a website might open up some new doors, I’m all for it.

  10. Very interesting, please keep us updated with how this goes. Will only families be allowed in, for example, because it is a “dark” place? Will men be segretated?

    Expat 21
    “Expat Abroad” in the Middle East
    expat21.wordpress.com

  11. “Have you ever heard of a movie producer who does not want his work to get much attention?”

    Have you ever head of a movie with no competition? I think the success of the movie validated his efforts.

    Cinema will take off regardless here, as the home movie business is very successful.

  12. It would be interesting to contemplate whether, after cinemas, the possibility of live stage theatre might be possible.

    ________________________

    I’m pretty sure that there is theater in Saudi Arabia 0_o

    —————————————-
    We are on the good side of this remember? We are asking for the right thing.
    _________________
    I dun wanna go to jail ;________________;

  13. Good Day Ahmed,

    How are you? My name is Jennifer Latessa and I am a student at the University of Vermont. I am an Environmental Studies major with a minor in Anthropology. I am taking a “Gender in the Middle East” course and as part of my assignment, I am responding to your blog. Nevertheless, I found your blog to be incredibly useful and interesting. You seem to be well-informed and mindful about your country and social and political issues. Your blog has been a useful guide for me, as I am only beginning to learn about the Middle East and its complexities. I was particularly drawn to this post, “Simple Things”, and your site because you address my focus: Gender and transportation in Saudi Arabia. Thank you for using popular culture and policy to demonstrate your thoughts, it really helps me gain a better understanding on life in Saudi Arabia. It is unimaginable for me to think of not having a proper theater. I am going to continue reading your past and future blogs for my research. Do you think you could recommend to me or post some good literature/information/experience on what gender differences and transportation is like for you personally or in Saudi Arabia in general? I would really appreciate it. And thank you for writing.

    Keep making a difference,
    Jenny

  14. Really, what on earth were you expecting from a Kingdom/Dictatorship witha “religious” police force, Friday Decapitations after Mosque, & a “holy” Koran with sentences like THIS>>>”Do not take as a friend neither Christian Nor Jew,as they are freinds of each other. They are Sub-Human Filth.” …Nice, isn’t it? And such a perfect starting out position for npeaceful co-existance,mutual-respect & world peace. The malevolence is so thick you could cut it with a saudi knife.

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