Saudi to spend billions on Western-style entertainment

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Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman drinks coffee during a graduation ceremony in Riyadh. Reuters

RIYADH (AFP) – Saudi Arabia announced plans yesterday to spend billions on building new venues and flying in Western acts, in a total overhaul of its entertainment sector that would been unthinkable not long ago.

Long known for its ultra-conservative mores, the kingdom has embarked on a wide-ranging programme of social and economic reforms driven by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

At a glitzy press conference in Riyadh, General Entertainment Authority chief Ahmad bin Aqeel al-Khatib told reporters the kingdom is set to invest $64 billion in its entertainment sector over the coming decade.

“We are already building the infrastructure,” Mr Khatib said, adding that ground had been broken for an opera house.

“God willing, you will see a real change by 2020,” Mr Khatib said, adding that more than 5,000 events were planned for the coming year.

Behind him, a screen teased the names of international acts like Maroon 5, Andrea Bocelli and Cirque du Soleil.

Neither a breakdown of how the money would be spent or a schedule for the cultural programme were provided.

But it follows a series of events in recent months including concerts, a Comic-Con festival and a mixed-gender national day celebration that saw people dancing in the streets to thumping electronic music for the first time.

Authorities have also announced plans to lift a decades-old ban on cinemas this year, with some 300 expected to open by 2030.

The newfound openness, which includes plans to allow women to drive from June this year, has been hailed by some as a crucial liberalisation of Saudi society.

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