Riyadh to invest billions of dollars in the entertainment industry

The plan involves bringing in major events, including an NBA game and a bullfight, in order to jumpstart a local entertainment industry that turn the country into one of the top 10 global entertainment destinations and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Saudi Arabia plans to invest billions of dollars in the nascent state-backed entertainment industry as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Saudi Vision 2030 reform programme.

The plan involves bringing in scores of western acts, like the Italian Super Cup (Supercoppa) final between Juventus and Milan, which was played in Jeddah last week. Other events could include an exhibition NBA basketball game and a Spanish-style running of the bulls.

Saudi Vision 2030 is a plan to reduce the country’s dependence on oil by attracting foreign tourists, creating new jobs and improving the quality of life in the conservative kingdom.

Until recently, concerts and movie in theatres were not allowed. A performance by the US pop group Black Eyed Peas last month sparked interest and surprise.

At the launch of the 2019 entertainment calendar, Turki al-Sheikh, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority (GEA), listed dozens of events the kingdom hopes to host this year, including auto races, magic shows and theatrical performances. Speaking of magic, ten years ago Saudi Arabia was still executing “witches”.

“I hope national companies, banks, businessmen, artists and all sectors put their hands together. There are golden opportunities,” al-Sheikh said. “This is a big door for tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of jobs,” he added.

The GEA chairman noted that the kingdom wants to become on of the top 10 global entertainment destinations, one of the top four in Asia.

Saudi Arabia is governed by an absolute Sunni monarchy, based on a Wahhabi fundamentalist view of Islam.

Over the past two years, the Crown Prince’s social reforms included granting women the right to drive cars and to attend sporting events in designated areas of stadiums.

However, the authorities have also cracked down on senior officials, business people, activists and critical voices, most notably in the Jamal Khashoggi affair, raising questions about the real extent of change.