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The dawn of the Saudi entertainment revolution

The dawn of the Saudi entertainment revolution
From Al Jazeera - January 21, 2018

In October of last year, Ari Emanuel, the CEO of one of Hollywood's biggest talent agencies, was one of a glittering coterie of international business people and investors drawn to the first Future Investment Initiative held in the Saudi capital Riyadh. Emanuel listened, no doubt avidly, to the keynote address given by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the sumptuous ballroom of the five-star Ritz-Carlton Hotel as the prince detailed opportunities for foreign companies and investors.

Ari, the brother of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel - a confidante of former President Barack Obama -was interviewed at the conference and spoke glowingly of Mohammed bin Salman's Vision 2030 and the powerhouse role entertainment and culture would play in driving forward an economic revolution in the kingdom:

"I think you will see live entertainment and music, food festivals, fashion, art shows, you will see that come in and the good thing is with Vision 2030 they have a long-term view of what they want it to become."

What Emanuel wants is for his company William Morris Endeavor to be a big part of the emerging entertainment industry in the kingdom. After all, Saudi Arabia under the harsh Wahhabism interpretation of Islam has been an entertainment desert for decades. No cinemas, no theatre, no live popular music events. But now with Mohammed bin Salman at the helm, pledging to return Saudi Arabia to what he calls "moderate Islam"the nascent industry is poised to become a rich oasis. It has huge market potential as 70 percent of the Saudi population is under the age of 30.

As Vision 2030 puts it: "We are well aware that the cultural and entertainment opportunities currently available do not reflect the rising aspirations of our citizens and residents, nor are they in harmony with our prosperous economy."

And Mohammed bin Salman is well aware too of the huge profits that can accrue if he positions himself at the top of a cultural and entertainment revolution. Vision 2030 claims that the entertainment sector will create 22,000 jobs. More enticingly, the aspiration is to develop tourism that would bring some 50 million visitors to the kingdom annually, in addition to the millions that already come for the Hajj, with money to spend on entertainment and holiday resorts.

Just how keenly ruthless he is about securing his position becomes clear when one considers the extraordinary events thatoccurred at the same Ritz-Carlton Hotel one week after the Future Investment Initiative conference ended.

On November 4, after hotel guests were told to leave, the Ritz-Carlton became a prison for over 200 leading businessmen and senior members of the ruling family in what was billed as an anti-corruption drive. The crackdown was ordered up by an anti-corruption committee, headed by Mohammed bin Salman.The committee was announced by royal decree as the round-up commenced.

Among those detained were Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the world's richest men, Saleh Abdullah Kamal and Waleed al-Ibrahim.In addition to their extensive business portfolios, the three men all had one thing in common: They head or rather headed large entertainment and media businesses.

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