Saudi Arabia Ushers in a Year of Entertainment in 2019
The head of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA), His Excellency Turki Al-Sheikh, unveiled a plan to transform the Kingdom’s entertainment industry on January 22. The announcement marked the latest progress under Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 platform to create a more vibrant and fulfilling society that includes a more diverse entertainment industry.
“Entertainment is a sector we heavily rely on for Vision 2030, in realizing our dreams. We won’t attain our goals unless we work together,” Al-Sheikh said in his first press conference since his appointment as Chairman of the GEA in September 2017.
The 2019 plan announced on Tuesday aims to “transform the Kingdom into one of the top ten international entertainment destinations,” Al-Sheikh said. He unveiled a new logo for the GEA, along with the new events platform “Enjoy_Saudi,” which will provide easy access to event information online and via mobile app.
The GEA is negotiating long-term contracts with more than 100 local and international partners, with plans to bring musicians including Jay-Z and DJ Khaled, along with international comedians Trevor Noah, Chris Rock, Seth Rogan and Gabriel Iglasies, among others, to the Kingdom.
These new contracts build on previous agreements between the GEA and leading companies in the entertainment industry. Last year, the GEA established partnerships with international entertainment providers Cirque du Soleil and Feld Entertainment, the production company behind “Disney on Ice”, “Disney Live”, “Marvel Stadium Show”, and “Monster Jam.”
Madame Tussauds waxworks museum will add two locations in the Kingdom to its roster of more than 25 locations around the world. The two new venues in Riyadh and Jeddah will both feature wax figures of King Faisal, who led Saudi Arabia from 1964 to 1975 and established the first government office dedicated to entertainment and youth affairs.
Concerts, live performances, theatrical events, and magic shows will be organized across the Kingdom under the new plan. Restaurants and cafes will also be able to apply for entertainment licenses starting this year.
Sporting events play a major role in the plan. Exhibition matches featuring former international soccer stars David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane, and a potential NBA championship are among the events the GEA hopes to host in the Kingdom in coming year. A new initiative will launch drifting rallies, where Saudi youth can safely engage in a popular motor sport hobby, fueled by friendly competition.
Several Islamic competitions will be held this year, along with many traditional and culturally significant local events. During the press conference, Al-Sheikh launched an initiative honoring singers, composers and poets who have contributed to Saudi culture.
“Our traditions and culture will be respected,” Al-Sheikh said during the press conference. He pointed to Saudi Arabia’s not so distant history when similar events and entertainment options were more common.
Al-Sheikh added that the entertainment industry is a vital part of economic growth, creating jobs and investment opportunities in the Kingdom. Another initiative of the GEA is to discover and develop local talent, particularly to help them gain international recognition. Osama, the “animal whisperer” and Al-Juaad group have already benefited from promotion by the GEA and will travel to Germany for performances later this year.
The GEA plan for 2019 will be supported by the Ministry of Commerce and Investment to help support the small and medium-sized local companies that will also be integral to the success of the Saudi entertainment industry.
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Ray Hanania is an award winning political and humor columnist who analyzes American and Middle East politics, and life in general. He is an author of several books.
"I write about three topics, the Middle East, politics and life in general. I often take my life experiences and offer them in an entertaining way to readers, and I take on the toughest topics like the Israel-Palestine conflict and don't pull any punches about what I feel is fair. But, my priority is always about writing the good story."
Hanania covered Chicago Politics and Chicago City Hall from 1976 through 1992. Hanania began writing in 1975 when he published The Middle Eastern Voice newspaper in Chicago (1975-1977). He later published “The National Arab American Times” newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East food stores in 48 American States (2004-2007).
Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia as the Special US Correspondent for the Arab News at www.ArabNews.com, the TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
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