Lifting of cinema ban to boost Saudi economy

By Yang Zhengqing Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/25 21:28:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

According to reports, Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Culture and Information announced on December 11 that commercial cinemas would be allowed to operate by early 2018. It was the first time that cinema has been allowed to operate in the country in 35 years and the announcement came as part of Saudi's Vision 2030.

On April 25 last year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman proposed Saudi Arabia Vision 2030 with the aim of ridding the nation of its dependence on oil and achieving the reform objectives of diversifying the national economy. 

The plan is divided into three themes: society, economy and national construction. In society, Saudi Arabia will promote cultural activities and events to encourage support, attract domestic and foreign investors with international entertainment companies and establish cooperative relations including an appropriate venue for recreational projects. These projects will drive the country's economic development to diversify its economy and create more jobs.

To a large extent, the kingdom's entertainment plans are driven by economics. The Vision 2030 aims to increase Saudi households' spending on cultural and recreational activities from the current 2.9 percent to 6 percent by 2030. Lifting of a cinema ban opens up a domestic market of more than 32 million people and the country is expected to have more than 300 theaters by 2030.

The lifting of the film ban is expected to boost Saudi Arabia's economy, create jobs and help industries outside the oil industry. The Saudi government expects the decision to create more than 30,000 jobs to help diversify the economy. The move marks the first time a Saudi cinema has been licensed since the early 1980s, a watershed in the cultural and economic development of the kingdom.

Reopening cinema will serve as a catalyst for economic growth and diversification, creating new jobs and training opportunities through the development of a broader cultural industry, and enriching the kingdom's entertainment options. All film performances must be consistent with deeply held social values, and films must be censored, and there should be no violation of Saudi religious and traditional ethics.

The decision to re cinemas could reinvigorate Saudi Arabia's transport, contracting companies and jobs. It will support local markets. Media studies have shown that Saudi Arabia's cinemas can get a sizeable market with annual profits of up to 1 billion euros ($11.9 billion).

Currently, up to 86 percent of Saudis watch movies on TV, while 49 percent on Internet sites like Netflix. With the ban lifted, viewers eager to watch the latest blockbuster don't need to fly to Dubai or drive to Bahrain. Bahrain sells 6.5 million movie tickets a year, of which 5 million are to Saudis.

The Saudis were cheered by the government's decision to allow cinemas in Saudi Arabia, and praise spread across social media.

But reopening cinemas may be against the rules of Wahabbism and challenge the ideas, cultures and customs that have lasted for thousands of years. In the face of powerful religious forces, this can be interpreted as incompatible with the traditional views of the sect. Religious forces will have a great impact on the reopening of cinemas.

In the 1970s, Saudi Arabia had some cinemas, but they were shut down by religious institutions, reflecting the rising Islamic influence in the entire Arab region at that time. The reopening of cinemas is bound to lead to the most public challenge to the entertainment agenda so far, and is being criticized by some conservatives. In addition to religious factors, Saudi Arabia lacks experience in the film industry.

The film industry in Saudi Arabia is still in its infancy and needs to be nurtured, developed and supported. After decades of cultural conservatism, the change will not be swift. Saudi Arabia will also take some steps forward, but it may be a slow process.

The author is a PhD candidate at the Institute of Ethnology and Sociology, Xinjiang Normal University.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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