DUBAI: Saudi Arabia's top religious authority has called cinemas and singing concerts harmful and corrupting, in a move that could complicate government efforts to introduce cultural reforms to the oil-rich kingdom.
The comments by Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al Sheikh, published on his website, said cinemas and round-the-clock entertainment could open the door to "atheistic or rotten" foreign films and encourage the mixing of the sexes.
Cinemas and public concerts are already banned in the Islamic kingdom. But the government promised a shake-up of the cultural scene with a set of "Vision 2030" reforms announced by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz last year.
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The head of the government's General Authority for Entertainment, Amr al Madani, stirred debate last week when he raised the possibility of opening cinemas and staging concerts this year.
The Saudi Gazette quoted Madani as saying Saudi singer Mohammed Abdo would perform in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah very soon. Up to now, singers have been limited to performing for private gatherings.
"I hope those in-charge of the Entertainment Authority are guided to turn it from bad to good and not to open doors to evil," the grand mufti said on his weekly television programme, according to a transcript of his comments on his website.
"Motion pictures may broadcast shameless, immoral, atheistic or rotten films," Sheikh Abdulaziz, adding, "The Mufti...also stressed that there is nothing good in song parties, for entertainment day and night and opening of movie houses at all times is an invitation to mixing of sexes."
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The "Vision 2030" initiative is meant to jumpstart the private sector, provide jobs for a growing population and open up Saudis' cloistered lifestyles. The plan's said it considers culture and entertainment "indispensable to our quality of life".
In remarks carried by Foreign Affairs magazine last week, Prince Mohammed said he believed only a small percentage of clerics were too dogmatic to be reasoned with while more than half could be persuaded through engagement and dialogue to support the plan.
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