Saudi Arabia to invest $64b | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 23, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 23, 2018

WESTERN-STYLE ENTERTAINMENT

Saudi Arabia to invest $64b

Saudi Arabia yesterday announced plans to spend billions on building new venues and flying in Western acts, in a total overhaul of its entertainment sector that would have 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 (GEA) 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," Khatib said, adding that ground had been broken for an opera house.

Khatib said hundreds of new companies have sprung up over the past year, registering for licences to take advantage of the budding sector.

"God willing, you will see a real change by 2020," the entertainment chief said, adding that more than 5,000 events were planned for the coming year.

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

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.

With the lifting of the driving ban on the horizon, Riyadh announced Sunday that women can now open their own businesses without the consent of a husband or male relative.

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