As part of its Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia is easing restrictions imposed on the entertainment industry in an attempt to promote growth in its post-oil economy.
The Kingdom is also transforming the role of women in the workforce and encouraging entertainers to set up events.
Earlier this year, the government issued directives to curb the committee’s powers, saying religious police can no longer chase violators, arrest them or ask for identification. This was a big step for the country, whose inhabitants, fearing religious authorities who order music to be silenced, travel to nearby Dubai and Bahrain to seek entertainment. About five million cars crossed the 25-kilometer bridge in 2015, according to the kingdom’s statistics bureau.
Dubai is a favorite destination for artists and filmmakers who cannot show their works at home. When Abdulmajeed Abdullah, a popular Saudi singer, performed in the city in March, the show was sold out to a mostly Saudi audience.
Last January, organisers of a performance by Canadian stand-up comedian Russell Peters separated men and women inside a white tent pitched in the desert outside Riyadh. The audience, who had driven 95 kilometers outside of the capital down a dark and secluded road to attend, tried to protest before giving up. For 22-year-old college student Marwa Yassin and her girlfriends, the experience was worth it.
“I felt like I was part of a real society,” Yassin told Bloomberg. “We sat together and laughed together. When the show was over, we all stood in lines in the cold to buy burgers or crepes from food trucks. We ran into friends. It felt right.”
But now, authorities are sponsoring events in the kingdom’s biggest cities and in 2017 plan to expand its activities to other regions. So far, they have included World Wrestling Entertainment in Riyadh — for men and their kids only — and a motor sports and music show that drew 6,000 spectators to a venue outside Jeddah. SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment is looking into a Saudi project and Six Flags has agreed to open a theme park in the Kingdom. James Reid-Anderson, chairman of Six Flags, said the park would cost as much as $500 million.
This article originally appeared on Bloomberg.