The cinema returns to Riyadh

Yesterday, I wrote about how the excitement around Saudi Arabia’s highest ranking female minister might be premature. In the cinema, though, liberalization might be proceeding, if only one city at a time: Saudis in the capital city of Riyadh did something at the weekend that they’ve not been able to do for more than 30 ...

585111_090609_riyadh5.jpg
585111_090609_riyadh5.jpg

Yesterday, I wrote about how the excitement around Saudi Arabia's highest ranking female minister might be premature. In the cinema, though, liberalization might be proceeding, if only one city at a time:

Saudis in the capital city of Riyadh did something at the weekend that they've not been able to do for more than 30 years – they went to the movies.

Yesterday, I wrote about how the excitement around Saudi Arabia’s highest ranking female minister might be premature. In the cinema, though, liberalization might be proceeding, if only one city at a time:

Saudis in the capital city of Riyadh did something at the weekend that they’ve not been able to do for more than 30 years – they went to the movies.

Since Friday, near-capacity crowds of 300 have been turning up at the King Fahd cultural centre to watch a local production called Menahi, a comedy about a naive bedouin who moves to the big city.

Several religious hardliners attempted to disrupt performances and turn away wannabe cinemagoers, but the screenings have generally taken place peacefully. Women were not allowed to attend, although girls aged 10 and under were exempted from the ban.

 It should be noted that the ban on going to the movies is as much about the “going” as the movies, as hardliners object to the inevitable gender mixing. Saudis can still rent movies or watch them on TV (although only in censored form). The art scene, though, is also improving:

But the weekend’s screenings are part of a trend of opening up the arts since the accession of King Abdullah in 2005. There has been an upsurge in Saudi-produced movies and the kingdom held its first film festival last year, in the city of Dammam. Menahi producer Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a nephew of King Abdullah and the world’s 13th-richest person according to Forbes magazine, said in February that he believed cinemas would eventually be reopened in the country.

Omar Salem/AFP/Getty Images

James Downie is an editorial researcher at FP.

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