RIYADH — Thirty years have passed since the Saudi government first decided to close Riyadh cinemas, thus depriving Saudis in the capital of public venues to watch films. The ban on cinemas followed a fatwa issued by conservatives asserting that interaction between the two sexes, which cinemas facilitate, was a violation of Islamic values.
On June 5, a few hundred Saudis in Riyadh had the opportunity to go to the cinema once again. A routine activity across much of the world, the event generated a great deal of excitement for residents of the kingdom who rarely have the opportunity to view films publicly.
Ahmed Al-Mokayed, a university student who attended a showing of the Saudi film Menahi with his brother and cousin, said, "This is the beginning of a new age."
The attendees, however, largely ignored their conservative advisors. On June 7, Saudi businessman Misfir Al-Sibai said, "It was wonderful to see the people so full of life and happiness. That was the best part of the evening."
Menahi is a comedy about a man from a small Saudi village who loses his way in the bustle of the city. The film was shown for the first time in Jeddah, one of the least conservative cities in the kingdom, last December. Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal made the decision to show the film in Riyadh, a step that some analysts say is consistent with a trend of liberalisation in the kingdom that began with King Abdullah in 2005.
Whatever the motive behind the showing, Riyadhis seemed happy and full of hope.
Many had travelled to nearby Bahrain and Kuwait, or even to Egypt, to watch Arab and foreign films. For them, being able to see Menahi in a movie house in the city was a positive and welcome development.
Abd Al-Mohsen Al-Mani, a businessman who brought his two sons to watch the film, said, "This is the first step in a peaceful revolution. I don't want my sons to grow up in the dark."
Sources: Associated Press /