I must confess that when I first read about the establishment of the General Entertainment Authority, like many others, I was skeptical about what kind of entertainment would be involved, especially as I considered the hardening of social mores over the past three decades. I remembered the Jeddah of old when one could go out and enjoy oneself without being accosted by shrieking bearded men waving sticks.
I remember going to the movies at the Jamjoom Theater with my mother who was a great James Bond fan! We used to go out for dinner undisturbed. I vividly remember attending a concert and hearing the famous song “Marsoul Al Hub”. This was in the Ministry of Education auditorium in Al-Baghdadiyah in Jeddah! Those were happy days when families enjoyed being entertained together.
However, as I now view some of the activities of General Entertainment Authority, I am filled with hope. We want to live as a happy people. My relatives attended Omar Khairat’s concert. They described it as classy – almost similar to an Umm Kulthum concert. The atmosphere was dignified and represented the beauty of the Saudi culture of yesterday. Everything was proper and within the bounds of decency and propriety.
Regarding the General Entertainment Authority, I have a few things to say and some observations, as well. Most board members in the organization are relatives, friends and the occasional nephew of a mother-in-law. In this case, the members fit the profile for this project.
My advice to the Chairman of the Authority, Mr. Ahmed Al-Khatib, is to have zero tolerance for corruption. Here I am not just talking about money changing hands, but rather a complete stop to nepotism, red tape and bureaucracy. For that is corruption, too.
The General Entertainment Authority should not only act as a regulator but should be an enabler and a facilitator, as well. They should create an environment that empowers people to choose to be happy, to live normal lives and make happiness an integral part of Saudi Vision 2030.
We want a society that is secure, stable, flourishing and productive. We want a rewarding life. We have had enough of negativism, stress and dos and dont’s. We don’t want to hear the expression “hatha mo waktoo” again.
A thing that I have noticed is a trend to the West. I am a great fan of Al Pacino and if I could, I would like to see him recite a few lines from “Scent of a woman”. Oprah is another favorite. But Mr. Al-Khatib and his group should know that Asia is also a center of culture and civilization, art, music, etc. Why not get Indian musical performers? Why not get Amitabh Bachchan who is better known to Saudi and Arab audiences that Pacino? The beautiful rendition of songs and dances of the Punjab and Rajasthan are world famous.
The cultural troupes of Indonesia and Malaysia need not be ignored. And, of course, there are natural indigenous events. Eco-tourism. A trip across the Rub Al-Khali, coastal surveys, hiking and other adventures can be arranged in conjunction with tourism.
And please do not overlook expatriates for they are part of our society. Instead of spending millions of dollars abroad, let us involve them in our plans.
And finally, the General Entertainment Authority has a golden opportunity to help small- and medium-sized enterprises thrive. There are many young Saudi men and women who have event management companies. Involve them – listen to them. Let our money flow inside the country.
Let our young people participate in the national economy. These are historic times for us. However, they are also challenging. We can only overcome these challenges with the participation of the young men and women who are ready to serve the nation.
Let happiness spread!
— Reprinted with permission of the Saudi Gazette and Khaled Almaeena. The writer is Editor-at-Large. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter: @KhaledAlmaeena