Nothing Changed

In November 1979, Juhayman al-Otaibi and his fellow zealots occupied the Grand Mosque in Makkah. After a bloody siege that lasted for two weeks, they were eventually captured and shortly beheaded. Following this event, Saudi Arabia experienced a scary rise of conservatism and the social liberalization that had begun in the 60’s and 70’s was halted or even rolled back. Women were no longer allowed on national TV, and restrictions on their employment and participation in public life became so harsh.

It is July 2009, more than 900 suspects were charged with participating in terrorist attacks in the country over the past few years. In landmark trials, more than 330 people in 179 cases had been tried and one given the death sentence. While these trials are still in progress, several restrictions to a freer access to culture and entertainment have been put in place, including a ban on cinema and cancellation of the Jeddah Film Festival.

What a difference 30 years make?

22 thoughts on “Nothing Changed

  1. I think the title of the film cancellation article is apt “…setback for reformers”.

    Setbacks are to be grieved and surmounted.

    Sad that 30 years, more than one generation, have passed with these types of restrictions on all, and on women in particular. The Grand Mosque occupation, and the Iranian Revolution of the same time frame, have done a great deal of damage to the flexibility of Saudi society to adapt to contemporary life.

  2. I have no crystal ball, but I could say this. Saudis today aren’t Saudis of 1979. Back then, people weren’t in any way ready for such big changes. Everybody was sucked in just to try to keep up with the rest of the world. Moreover, the government is no longer able to take total control of the media and telecoms as it did back then.

    Call me an optimistic, but I see a much brighter future.

  3. This is the most stupid ignorant remark you’ve ever made Ahmed!
    Saudi never officially sanctioned Cinema for them to ban it.
    The ban that has always been there was enforced.
    It can’t be a step backward if there was no step forward in the issue of Cinema to begin with!
    This was the first festival planed by the Municipality of Jeddah with no official approval from the ministry in charge.
    It happened before with Jeddah Economic forum that was never approved officially yet the chamber of commerce went ahead with it only to have to cancel it at the last minute!
    We live in Jeddah. We would’ve loved to host the first movie festival in Saudi. It would eventually happen one day.

  4. Another factor that probably outweighs the two I listed above is the following: Back in the 60’s and 70’s the cultural revolution was about ‘sticking it to the man’, ‘not following the rules’ and ‘breaking the taboos’. That boiled down to butting heads with religion, among others, which was a sure nail in the coffin of that movement.
    Whereas, today’s movement is more about ‘claiming your rights’, ‘openness to oneself and to others’ and ‘free market’. This movement is in line with the teachings of Islam and can be easily integrated in our lifestyles without having shy away from our background.

  5. i believe that they have one small good point for canceling jeddah festival which is preventing the consequences for approving cinema in Saudi Arabia and what followes up after that. While it will be approved sooner or later, people mainly hated the way of forcing the prevention of jeddah cinema festival more than preventing the cinema it self.

    i hope that the government changes their way in dealing with us and just force people to do so or else shut their mouth up.

    eventually, things it self will flow and i see a brighter future in the Horizon

  6. To Mr. Saudi Aspire

    I’m not sure how old are you but that does not justify your false twisted yet ignorant facts you mentioned coming from someone who claims to be a jeddawi. That goes also for v. recent facts you brought that are very much common sense to anyone who knows a thing or two about jeddah film festival that started 3 years ago , though your comment makes it look like its the ” first movie festival in Saudi.” Well Hello ! saba7 alkhair Mr. this year’s canceled festival was suppose to be the 4th one !

    movie theaters were there in Jeddah with authorities complete approval. As everything else in the country the trend is to leave things hazy and not quite approved nor banned movie theaters were not excluded from that grey zone. There was a movie theatre in al sharfiya screening mainly indian movies for expats , others in al balad differs from middle class family venues to cheaper ones in open space that a close friend of mine , an acclaimed Saudi novelist , told me that they even screened porn !

    Now back to the recent Film Festival in Jeddah which I covered since it started in July 2006 :

    where I quoted Deputy Minister of Culture Abdul Aziz Al-Sebail saying in an earlier interview I conducted with him that the ministry of info. and culture ” would not object to a literary club or a public library displaying movies that have “a meaningful message.” First year the wording ” movie festival ” was cautiously avoided but was then used in the coming years openly with the info. and culture ministry approval and welcoming support. all movies screened in past festivals were approved by the supervision department there. The municipality approval is only technical they hold no real power , its the ministry and the Makkah governorate.

    Jeddah film festival was a personal / private sector initiative and officials were merely facilitators till in May 22 , 08 The first government sponsored festival “Saudi Film Competition” held in Dammam with the former minister / Iyad Madani presence and direct encouragement and endorsement :

    and btw even the dammam one was quietly cancelled as I heard from close friends!

    so my advice to you in the future you might wan conduct some basic researching before you start your comment with obscene words that actually fire back on you.

    Ebtihal Mubarak – Saudi Journalist.

    p.s : great analogy ahmad keep it up !

  7. Banning was mentioned last week in one fundemntalist site nad no one believed it but it looks true by this new turn of events. I agree that history is repeating itself and I believe the reason is that the same people and same mentality that was in charge in 1979 are still in charge now. I worry that they will still be in charge for decades to come. I have given up on saudi society long time ago and evey day I see evidence that we are a country that lives in history and still don’t learn from it.

  8. Hello everyone, It is sad, but it’s even more frustrating than anything when it’s cancelled at the last minute.

    I’ve been to the first festival, was not great at all, In any way shape or form, but it was a start… however, due to it being like that I did not know there was a 2nd and then a 3rd….and a 4th! seemed like the movement was gaining momentum, and if the gov never gave permission in the 1st place, (now I know why the 1st festival seemed so sketchy) a bigger event would cause them to feel challenged.

    Obviously the organizers did not have the right backing… that’s all I can say.. .if they had… like Menahi did… then the screening would’ve been on… and all those that oppose… could’ve went to the sea with big cups and sat down for a drinking contest to see who can drink the most sea water.

  9. I somtimes wonder who is the big loser here.Is it the cinema people or us” Saudis”..Right now there is a whole generatiom subjected to a strict doctrine and being continously deprived from all sorts of Art.This is not a small joking matter or just one day news ..It is a sad point in history ..We must not lose the war to the ” Juhaimanees” . We must undertand that . It is not far from truth that one can lose the ability to be human without Art .Our restricted way of life had aleady turned many people in this land into monsters .

  10. To delete a pacific film festival is a reaction of a country that fears change, even in its smaller aspects. I’m not so astonished, because Art is the principle freedom’s expression.

  11. The cancellation is of course lamentable.

    However, we must also be optimistic.

    In 1979, a film festival was the only means by which groups could view films, and then be able to discuss those films.

    In 2009, we can watch films on the internet, and discuss them on the internet as well.

    Thus, the cancellation of a film festival has a markedly different effect now.

    Today, the cancellation affects primarily those without the economic means to access the internet.

    Technology has the effect of allowing for the ideas and spirit of art to penetrate even when those authorities who would oppose art take action.

  12. Yes,Andrew,you are right, but I seriously doubt that in Saudi Arabia everybody has the internet. Thereafter I’m not so optimistic as you.

  13. For thirty years, Saudi Arabia has embraced, to the fullest extent possible, the credo “Islam is the solution!” – if not to all that ails Saudi society, then at least to what Allah wants. In keeping with that policy, King Abdullah just announced a conference to “defend Islam” with the explicit purposes of “strengthening adherence” and “removing misconceptions” – in short, to convince Muslims that the Saudi way is best and that Muslims should be happy with it. It is an alternative vision of Islam that the Sauds think should appeal to its populace more than Iran’s.

    Just think what would happen if Saudi Arabia stayed on the course it was on in the 70s: you’d probably be writing gossip about King Abdullah’s latest mistress, praising the Saudi girls winning international gymnastic competitions, and discussing the latest show at the Riyadh Opera House. Is that really the Saudi Arabia you want?

  14. to me it seems like another way to keep the population down..a jeddah film festival would foster national creativity and why is it being cancelled while dvds of foreign movies can be easily purchased? maybe because these shows are foreign so dont contribute to a sense of national culture..while a genuine saudi film festival might just do that. this threatens the religious establishment because if an outpouring of saudi art and intellectual culture is to occur, then they’ll become less relevant, and more people will start ask more questions..

  15. And what’s wrong if that would really happen,Solomon2?
    Each society has the right to evolve. Saudi Arabia is a sort of Middle Age in the present. I believe that all religions reap the chance to adapt themselves to times. Why not Islam in Saudi Arabia?

  16. I lost all hopes for this country to ever have a change..I just read in todays Riyadh newspaper that the court of law of Saudi Arabia have issued a sentence to a Yemeni robber by amputation of his hand .Imagine this happens in the 21st century in a country which is a major exporter of oil , a member of human rights Organization and a member of the UN.

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