It’s happening in Saudi Arabia, of all places, where, for the first time in 30 years last Saturday, it was movie night in Riyadh. More than 300 men crowded the King Fahd Cultural Centre for a film called Menahi, while angry conservative protesters promised merciful Allah’s wrath.
Mind you, the movie has been produced by the Rotana group, a regional entertainment giant owned by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, a nephew of King Abdullah. Perhaps it would be unseemly if the 300 men (no women, note) were dragged out and given a going-over by the religious police, considering that they’re contributing to the already dripping-in-wealth coffers of the King’s family.
The website AsiaNews.it tells us:
Outside the centre a bunch of religious radicals shouted slogans about the moral decay caused by movies, how small steps in favour of an open society were bringing disasters on the country, citing a recent series of minor earthquakes in western Saudi Arabia.
Yeah, a guy goes to see a film and Allah decides to play with his tectonic plates. Logic or what?
Public cinemas were shut down in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s, as the country’s deeply conservative leaders feared they would lead to the mixing of the sexes, and undermine Islamic values.
However, in the last few years a few steps towards reform have been taken under King Abdullah, small for the outside world but giant leaps for Muhammad’s birthplace. This has breathed new life in the local entertainment industry.
Although careful not to inflame the conservatives, the website says, Rotana, the company that made the movie, plans to show Menahi at least three more times over the coming weeks, and expects crowds to be larger – and include women.
However, in past few weeks the film was shown in Jeddah in a theatre where the sexes were separated, with men on the ground floor and women in the balcony.
Small steps, then.