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Jeddah Film Festival Canceled; Saudi Arabian Clerics Happy

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Saudi Arabia is not known for its humanity. It’s still the only country in the world where women are banned from driving on public roads. And its system for capital punishment is shocking. Government leaders have thrown human rights out the window, in favor of adhering to their religious ideals. The long and short of it is that the country is governed strictly by Islamic law and that trumps everything.

It’s hard to imagine anything as normal and fun as going to the movies could be considered blasphemous, but in Saudi Arabia it is. For years, citizens have been building a reform movement to abolish laws that prohibit cinemas and public theatres, among other things. It all seemed to be leading to a positive conclusion, too.

Last December, a Saudi Arabian comedy titled Menahi was shown in some of the country’s few movie theaters (as depicted in the above picture). It was a smash success. Then it was announced some time ago that plans were under way for the 4th annual Jeddah Festival in Riyadh. Saudi Arabia’s only film festival was going to showcase a slate of 71 features and 15 shorts. But, alas, it was not to be.

All festivities were suddenly canceled last Friday, the night before its kick-off, with the lame excuse that city officials were not adequately prepared. Right. Or maybe they were feeling the pressure from overzealous holy men who find the practice of watching a flickering light on a screen to be evil.

Filmmaker Mahmoud Sabbagh tells the New York Times:

We were hoping that things like the Jeddah film festival, the Gulf film festival in Khobar, that these very humble efforts would lead the change, but we got the message it is not the time.

Indeed it is sad that an outlet for the Arts  in Saudi Arabia remains a pipe dream. King Abdullah may be a relatively progressive leader, but he’s still got a long way to go.

Categories: Movies
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