The Ultra-Conservative Saudi Arabia Now Wants Its People To Have Fun

Most forms of entertainment are shunned by the conservative Saudi Kingdom. Locals travel to neighboring Dubai or Bahrain for their dose of fun and entertainment.

Things are changing in Saudi Arabia — it's no longer an entertainment-lacking country.

Magic shows, stand up comedians (no less than Russell Peters himself), Comic Con and, dare we hope, even cinema are becoming a norm in the religiously strict Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that has no cinema houses. Strict adherence to religious edicts and social restrictions have kept the entertainment field quite dry.

Things are changing however. The kingdom has not only decided to turn over a leaf and start a fun-filled chapter in history, authorities gave themselves the target to do everything in their power to make their country as fun and full of entertaining activities as possible till 2020.

The reason?

Money, of course. What else?

The Saudi economy is getting wobblier by the day. The days of affluence and  bling may soon become a thing of the past.

The government is eager to find alternate sources of income and is relaxing the rules on having fun in the ultra-conservative society and obviously to earn money from it.

Saudi Arabia

Coming to the rescue, the king's son and  Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has created a blueprint to revive the post-oil economy — Vision 2030.

Under Vision 2030, everything from government spending to subsidies to the role of women in the workforce is being redesigned.

Saudis regularly travel to the neighboring Dubai or Bahrain for entertainment.

“When I travel it’s to live a normal life,” says 28-year-old Anmar Fathaldin. “I can walk with my wife without her having to cover up, we can attend live music events or we can go to the beach with the children. This won’t happen here.”

Under the prince's revival plan, the kingdom will have more than 450 clubs providing a variety of cultural activities and events.

These activities will be aimed to double household spending on recreation to 6 percent — 2 percent higher than the 4 percent the spent on entertainment in 2015.

The Saudi government has gone as far as setting up a General Entertainment Authority (GEA) to make sure the people don't have to cross borders for fun and entertainment and instead, spend their cash in the kingdom for fun and entertainment.

So the plan is to organize recreational activities and increase local tourism activities and "improve the investment climate to attract foreign funds and reduce the export of capital."

The kingdom recently held an American magic show even though the cast was all male and even though there were women in the audience, only men and children were allowed on stage for a photo-op with the performers.

“It’s a new experience,” Mohammed al-Mawla, a university student from Riyadh, said. “We’d love to have more such shows in the kingdom.”

The entertainment authority has sponsored events like World Wrestling Entertainment and a motor sports and music show.

2017 plans to expand its activities include a SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment project and Six Flags theme park.

So desperate is the kingdom to earn the extra dough that it has even tried curbing the powers of the religious police that remains adamant to keep the austere brand of Wahhabi Sunni Islam that deems concerts and cinemas prohibited and holds gender segregation mandatory.

An example can be the variety show held in November 2016 inside King Abdullah Economic City, a gated community about 160 kilometers outside the Saudi port city of Jeddah, and tested some traditional Saudi boundaries.

The stage was in a marquee and involved performers from "Got Talent" shows across the world.

What's more, the audience wasn’t segregated.

Banner/Thumbnail Credit: Reuters

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