Entertainment: The future of Saudi Arabia’s non-oil economy


The Quality of Life Program (QLP), a major component of the Saudi Vision 2030 reform plan, aims to improve people’s lifestyles by developing an ecosystem to support and create new options that boost citizens’ and residents’ participation in cultural, environmental and sports activities.
The QLP aims to create jobs, diversify economic activity, and raise the status of Saudi cities so that they rank among the best in the world. One of the program’s main objectives is to develop and diversify entertainment opportunities, including electronic games facilities, family entertainment centers, water parks, cinemas, theme parks, zoos, aquariums, botanical gardens, public parks, theaters and an opera house.
To support the QLP, the government created the General Entertainment Authority (GEA) in 2016 for the purpose of organizing and developing the entertainment sector and support its infrastructure in Saudi Arabia.
With the support and cooperation of various government sectors and private entities, the GEA has managed to improve quality of life in the Kingdom. It has also managed, in a very short time, to diversify and enrich entertainment experiences nationwide.
The great success of Riyadh Season is a good example of the GEA’s outstanding ability to enhance the entertainment industry in the Kingdom, as evidenced by the 10.3 million people who visited the festival. Riyadh Season was able to generate more than SR1 billion ($267 million) for the GEA, and indirect revenues via the Saudi payments system Mada exceeded SR4 billion during the official period of the festival (Oct. 15 to Dec.15, 2019).
Riyadh Season was not only successful in attracting visitors to the capital, but also in creating 34,700 direct jobs and 17,300 indirect (seasonal and volunteer) jobs for Saudi men and women. Riyadh Season’s success is expected to be replicated in the series of current and upcoming festivals in the Kingdom.
I believe that Saudi Arabia can easily establish a strong entertainment industry that can support and diversify the economy, especially as the government is striving to reduce dependence on oil. A strong entertainment industry in the Kingdom will be able to support the growth of the gross domestic product, improve local content, support small and medium-sized enterprises, increase foreign direct investment and create jobs.

Talat Zaki Hafiz is an economist and financial analyst.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point-of-view

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Dialogue a must to resolve conflicts, head of Saudi-led interfaith dialogue center tells G20 forum

Time: June 11, 2019  

KAICIID Secretary-General Faisal bin Abdulrahman bin Muammar speakinga the G20 Interfaith Forum in Tokyo on June 9, 2019. (Twitter)
  • Religion should be seen as ‘part of solution’, interfaith forum told
  • 84% of world’s population professes a religious faith or tradition, majority of whom are encouraged by their values to do good, says KAICIID chief

TOKYO: The secretary-general of the King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue (KAICIID), Faisal bin Abdulrahman bin Muammar, has stressed the importance of focusing on common values and ethics to resolve various issues in the world.

In his keynote address at the opening ceremony of the G20 Interfaith Forum in Tokyo on Saturday, he highlighted the importance of dialogue to resolve conflicts and ensure global peace.

The KAICIID chief expressed his pride in his organization’s contributions to and support of previous G20 Interfaith Forums held in Argentina and Germany.

He stressed the importance of the forum in bringing to light the vital work and contributions of religious communities, leaders and organizations, and stated the main goal of the forum was to bring religious insights to the attention of political leaders during the G20 Summit to be held on June 28–29 in Osaka.

Bin Muammar said in addition to wars, violence and climate change, the world is faced with new challenges that need to be addressed, such as technological revolution, digital currency, artificial intelligence and trade disputes.

We cannot achieve peaceful and cohesive societies without engaging religious communities in the dialogue about the problems.

Faisal bin Muammar, KAICIID secretary-general

He pointed out that 84 percent of the world’s population professes a religious faith or tradition, and that the vast majority of these people are encouraged by their values to do good.

“The desire to achieve peace, equality and justice are common to all religions,”he said.

Bin Muammar said: “We must allow religion to be seen as a key part of the solution, and not, as is often the case, the cause of the problem. There can be no more excuse for blaming religion or religious leaders.

“We need to encourage policymakers to embrace the tremendous force for good that the faith community, faith actors and faith-based organizations represent in our world.”

He also urged the UN, governments and the international community to include faith-based organizations in the decision-making process.

“We cannot achieve peaceful and cohesive societies without engaging religious communities in the dialogue about the problems and potential solutions,” he said.

KAICIID, he said, had established sustainable dialogue platforms to help combat hate speech and other forms of incitement to violence, and shaped policy on reconciliation and peace processes through interfaith dialogue in the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Myanmar and the Arab world.

He said KAICIID’s journey showed that when societies are faced with conflict, solutions lie in focusing on common values and ethics, to which religion paves the way.

The annual G20 Interfaith Forum in Tokyo was launched under the title “Working for Peace, People, and Planet: Challenges to the G20,” with the participation of three former prime ministers of the UK, Ireland and New Zealand, representatives of the UN, international organizations, academics, and a recorded message from Pope Francis, the head of the Roman Catholic Church. As many as 2,000 participants attended the conference’s sessions to exchange experiences and prepare appropriate recommendations.

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Quality of Life 2020: Growth through arts and culture

Time: May 13, 2018

Almost ten years ago when, as one of BMG Foundation Pillars, we launched BMG Classics, one of our objectives was enhancing the youth’s “quality of life.”

Our region faces the threat of being overwhelmed by an invasion of commercialized music which does not enhance the tastes and sensibilities of our children. It was, therefore, the foundation’s humble ambition to provide an arena to enjoy the wonder and beauty of classical music as part of life enhancement.

Now, another dream is being realized in our Kingdom: The Quality of Life 2020 Program.

The program promotes the Kingdom’s contribution to arts and culture through the elevation and development of fields including performing arts, filmmaking, poetry, literature and national heritage. By refining the talents of both established and up-and-coming Saudi artists, the Kingdom’s presence on the international arts and culture stage will be greatly enhanced.

The program includes plans for the creation of an island for arts and culture: the opening of theaters, libraries, and the Royal Arts Complex by 2020 to promote the arts and culture sector in Kingdom.

Quality of Life 2020 aspires to provide economic and investment opportunities for sustainable growth and development. Creative industries have proved to be key drivers of economic growth around the world. There are many opportunities for these sectors to thrive in the Kingdom; a number of funding models will be developed to stimulate the private sector to invest in both capital expenditures and operating expenses.

The monitoring is in line with approved governance for measuring achievements. A number of specialized agencies have been established at government level, e.g., the National Center for Performance Measurement, the Strategic Management Office, the Bureau of Spending Rationalization, the Non-Oil Revenue Development Unit and the Local Content and Private Sector Development Unit.

All aim to formulate strategies and set goals, create programs, monitor achievements, and manage projects. This contributes to the development and economic decision-making process through close liaison among all ministries concerned with economic, financial, social and development issues.

Recently, the Board has approved the strategic objectives of Vision 2030 to establish measurable frameworks, benchmarks, and to follow the progress of plans and operational programs continuously and effectively. To me, this is a commitment by the government at the highest level to enhance the lives of its citizens.

I believe most of us, if not all of us, will become part of this beautiful program, directly or indirectly. Next week, I will take my seven-year-old Salma to buy her first violin so she can start taking private lessons.

This article was first published in Arab News

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Saudi Arabia’s Quality of Life Program Vs Skeptics

6 May, 2018

Saudi Arabia’s Quality of Life program alongside its 234-page executive summary, announced by the Economic and Development Board last week, was a down-to-the-letter exceptionally gratifying read.

Why?! In short, because the program goes beyond a vision and into noting down operational details with clear-cut numbers, specific timelines and initiatives set for fulfilling the ultimate goal of making Saudi Arabia the best place to live in for citizens and residents alike.

The program relies on two axes: the first being the development of the individual’s lifestyle and the second being the enhancement of overall quality of life in the kingdom.

Upgrading the local environment so that it offers a new array of options that get citizens and residents involved in cultural, recreational and sporting activities is a part of the program’s plan for developing an individual’s lifestyle in the Kingdom.

On the second hand, widening the scope of activities inside the kingdom, diversifying the economy, and planning for at least three Saudi cities to rank top worldwide, will advance the Kingdom’s agenda on improving the overall quality of life in the kingdom.

Quality of Life 2020 aims to include at least three Saudi cities in the list of the top 100 cities in the world to live in by 2030.

The program isn’t only focused on long-term goals but has set immediate goals to work.

Year 2022 is the deadline for promoting social sports activities, achieving excellence in several regional and global sports, and developing and diversifying recreational opportunities, meeting the needs of the population.

These goals are set to indirectly improve services provided in Saudi cities such as utilities, public transport, and urban landscape, as well as push the establishing of special areas and rehabilitating economic zones.

More so, the initiative is that it is only one of twelve other key programs identified by the Economic and Development Council as strategically vital for Saudi Arabia to achieve the goals of Kingdom Vision 2030.

Implementing programs in Saudi Arabia is being backed with effective cooperation between state ministries and institutions—nationwide, initiatives cannot be achieved if state bodies operate on an isolated-island principal.

In order to achieve satisfactory results on improving main aspects of life, such as infrastructure, transport, housing, urban design, environment, health care, economic and educational opportunities, security and the social environment, progress must be tightly tied to strict performance indicators.

It goes without saying that improving quality of life in Saudi cities will reflect positively on the welfare of citizens and residents, as well as visitors and tourists.

Developing strong infrastructure in Saudi cities, providing comprehensive services, enhancing social interaction, and offering both quality and diverse lifestyle choices are factors that motivate people and enhance social livelihood.

It goes without saying that Saudi Arabia is stepping into an astounding future.

However, some skeptics choose to focus on the obstacles. Pessimists at every corner watch out closely for the smallest misfortunes to put to question the validity of change. They remain hesitant to believe that positive change is actually happening in Saudi Arabia.

It is true that the same people were blaming Saudi Arabia for its steadfastness and lack of flexibility in change, have now become full-time skeptics. They themselves never believed that Saudi Arabia would have a vision and a future project of such astronomical scale.

Nevertheless, doubters aren’t to be blamed– it is not easy for them to imagine that a new Saudi Arabia is launched and won’t slow down until it achieves listed aspirations. The proof of the pudding is in the eating, and skeptics will day by day be dismissed with ground-hard facts.

This article was first published in  ASHARQ AL-AWSAT

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Saudi Program Calls for Gender-Mixing, No Prayer Closure

Time: May 5, 2018

A Saudi government program to improve the quality of life in the kingdom called for the legalization of gender mixing and an end to the mandatory prayer closures for businesses, significant steps to ease social restrictions in the conservative country.

The 236-page document sent to reporters Thursday night outlining the government’s new Quality of Life Program called for lobbying to amend the laws, saying the areas “require immediate regulatory changes.”

Even a recommendation would represent a notable shift in the official rhetoric on two sticky religious issues that could spark a backlash from conservative Saudis. The items were buried on page 156 of the document and were not mentioned during a news conference to announce the program Thursday. They were removed from versions posted online later. Government officials didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Easing social restrictions is a key part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s push to overhaul the oil-dependent economy and attract foreign investment. The prince’s so-called Vision 2030 seeks to encourage more women to join the workforce and has identified entertainment as one industry with strong growth prospects.

The government has already lifted its longstanding ban on cinemas and women driving and sponsored gender-mixed music concerts. The changes have so far provoked minimal public dissent as the government clamps down on criticism.

Prince Mohammed, in an interview with CBS News program “60 Minutes” broadcast in March, said the kingdom has “extremists who forbid mixing between the two sexes and are unable to differentiate between a man and a woman alone together and their being together in a work place.”

The document sent to reporters called for allowing the “intermingling of both genders to enhance social cohesion” and legalizing the opening of stores during prayer times, as well as the participation of women in sports in public places. It said that passing new regulations in these areas would improve citizen participation in lifestyle activities and boost investor confidence.

Shops, restaurants, cafes and even pharmacies in the kingdom are required to close several times a day in recognition of Islam’s five daily prayers.

The rules on gender segregation are more varied, with authorities sometimes enforcing separate spaces and entrances for men and women and sometimes enforcing a looser separation between “single men” and “families” — meaning any group involving a woman. Recently, some state-sponsored events have had no gender segregation at all.

This article was first published in Bloomberg

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Kingdom’s Council for Economic Development to spend $35bn on Saudi lifestyles by 2020

May 03, 2018


  • Quality of Life 2020 program aims to improve Saudi Arabians’ lifestyle
  • Crown Prince Mohammed is keen to make the Kingdom’s economy more diversified and Saudi Arabia’s society more vibrant.

JEDDAH: The Council of Economic and Development Affairs (CEDA) has launched the Quality of Life Program 2020, one of the Vision Realization Programs 2030 approved by the Council of Ministers.

The implementation plan for the program reflects the vision of the government of King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to prepare the environment to improve individuals and families’ lifestyle.

It will also enhance participation in cultural, entertainment, sports and other activities that contribute to the quality of life and to job creation, as well as encourage investment opportunities and diversification of economic activities, while enhancing the status of Saudi cities in the ranking of the best cities in the world.

Total expenditure will be SR130 billion ($34.6 billion), of which SR74.5 billion is total direct investment in the program.

Government capital expenditure is more than SR50 billion until 2020, and investments available to the private sector are around SR23.7 billion.

This does not include all forms of capital expenditure in major projects such as the Qiddiya project, the Red Sea project, Al-Dariyah Gate project, Historical Jeddah project, and the Royal Commission for Al-Ula, in addition to all related projects of the private sector, with total investments exceeding SR86 billion.

The program aims to achieve non-oil GDP growth in the related sectors 0f 20 percent a year until 2020, and the contribution of local content by 67 percent until 2020.

The program indicators within macroeconomic measures include creating more than 346,000 jobs and generating non-oil revenues of SR1.9 billion.

The overarching goal is to have at least three Saudi cities included in the list of the top 100 cities in the world to live in by 2030. While the overall aspiration refers to three cities in the Kingdom, the program aims for the improvement of the lifestyle of citizens and residents throughout Saudi Arabia.

Quality of Life 2020 aspires to provide economic and investment opportunities for sustainable growth and development. Creative industries have proved to be key drivers of economic growth around the world.

A number of funding models will be developed to stimulate the private sector to invest in both capital expenditures and operating expenses.

The program uses educational institutions and sports clubs to promote sports activities in the community by diversifying activities and facilitating access to sports services. This is in addition to upgrading the infrastructure available for sporting activities.

The program aims to provide 492 suitable places for sport as well as increasing the use of sports facilities from 8 percent to 55 percent. It also aims to contribute to the distinction of Saudi sport globally, by preparing a number of elite athletes in the Kingdom and improving their performance to participate effectively in the Olympic Games.

The program promotes the athletic participation of girls at school. It aims to have 325,000 girls taking part in physical education classes, training 7,500 teachers and providing 1,500 schools with gyms.

The program also promotes the Kingdom’s contribution to arts and culture through the elevation and development of cultural and artistic fields (visual arts, performing arts, filmmaking, poetry, design and national heritage) by focusing on refining the talents of artists and amateurs, increasing and improving the quality of domestic production and enhancing the Kingdom’s international presence in the arts and culture.

The program also aims to establish an island for arts and culture in Jeddah, including 45 cinemas, 16 theaters and 42 libraries, and the Royal Arts Complex in Riyadh by 2020 to promote the arts and culture sector in Kingdom.

This article was first published in the Arab News

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