Cinema makes a comeback in Saudi Arabia

Mamdouh AlMuhaini
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The artists are Saudis, so are musicians and the public; nevertheless the concert is held outside Saudi Arabia. The same thing applies to cinema.

Saudi films are broadcast in Cannes and Berlin but are nowhere to be found in Riyadh and Dammam. This puzzling scene has been prevalent for years. It ended after the government restored things to its nature state. What we are witnessing is the return of a happy and artistic society.

This paradoxes didn’t define Saudi society, which some claim to be against arts and events. This lie is constantly perpetuated to put Saudi society in a mould and isolate it as if does not appreciate creativity, has no aesthetic sensitivity and has parted ways with its folklore heritage.

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All these are naive perceptions especially if we take into account the public turnout to these events outside Saudi Arabia and even within Saudi Arabia. If this audience is an enemy of artistic expression then why do they attend concerts and spend money on them? Why are the tickets for Mohammed Abdou and Yanni concerts so quickly sold out?

The truth is that art did not disappear from Saudi Arabia, even though it did not find the appropriate atmosphere to shine because of prohibitions and taboos. Once these curbs disappeared, the artistic expression took a new dimension, transforming art into an integrated artistic and economic industry rather than an amateur activity.

Rise of civilized societies is linked to the rise of art and it is rare to see ignorant societies producing the most brilliant works of art or literature

Mamdouh AlMuhaini

Religious justification

The absence of art was justified on religious grounds. However, it was only a trick used by extremists who put moralities in direct conflict with art even though it is regarded as a pillar of any civilized life.

It is true that the rise of civilized societies is linked to the rise of art and it is rare to see ignorant societies producing the most brilliant works of art or literature. We see how ignorant minds consider creative artists as wicked whereas in fact they contribute toward shaping the national identity of people by enriching the aesthetic imagination.

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This is why Egyptians celebrate Umm Kulthum, the Lebanese cherish Fairuz and the Saudis love Muhammad Abdou. However, there is a reason why a war has been waged on art as art is inherently liberal and hostile to extremist ideologies, and all attempts to convert it to serve political agendas have failed.

When did you last hear of Islamic art or literature? All of these attempts to convert art were born dead and the corpses does not come back to life.

The cinema example

Just recently, the decision to reopen movie theaters in Saudi Arabia was taken after they were closed for decades. Anyone who has lived in Saudi Arabia even for a limited period of time knows that there is a cinema culture that has grown rapidly in the last decade.

It has not only produced a large audience that loves cinema and the new Hollywood production studios, but also art movement. There have been stars, directors, carnivals, but no movie theaters; which has been corrected by this important decision.

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The story of art in Saudi society is like any other human society. It has a diverse and deep rooted artistic heritage and folklore where arts and dances vary across Saudi Arabia. Art is a part of the social identity of any society and people love their favorite artists because over the ages they come to represent their collective conscience in a way that others do not.

The war on art has been a losing battle because art has a natural and inherent place in the nature and in societies. Laws, no matter how harsh, cannot simply abolish and eliminate art. Art will always return to the front.

The decision to reopen cinemas is not isolated one but comes in the context of the historical transformation taking place in Saudi Arabia, which has taken shape over a short period of time. We could not imagine these things even a few months ago.

This article is also available in Arabic.
Mamdouh AlMuhaini is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News Channel’s digital platforms. He can be followed on Twitter @malmhuain.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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