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By On April 18, 2018

Saudi Arabia screens 'Black Panther' to mark movie theater openings

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia â€" Saudi Arabia held a private screening on Wednesday of the Hollywood blockbuster “Black Panther” to herald the launch of movie theaters in the kingdom, and tickets go on sale Thursday for public showings on Friday.

Authorities planned the invitation-only event in a concert hall converted into a cinema complex in the capital, Riyadh. The screening, attended by both men and women, will be followed by a rush to build movie theaters in major cities.

The Saudi government dubbed Wednesday’s event as “the showing of the first commercial film in the kingdom after more than 35 years.”

Audience members clearly enjoyed the moment, eating popcorn and erupting into applause and hoots when the movie started.

“This is a landmark moment in the transformation of Saudi Arabia into a more vibrant economy and society,” Saudi Minister of Cul ture and Information Awwad Alawwad said in statement ahead of the screening.

It’s a stark reversal for a country where public movie screenings were banned in the 1980s during a wave of ultraconservatism that swept Saudi Arabia. Many Saudi clerics view Western movies and even Arabic films made in Egypt and Lebanon as sinful.

Despite decades of ultraconservative dogma, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has sought to ram through a number of major social reforms with support from his father, King Salman.

The crown prince is behind measures such as lifting a ban on women driving that will go into effect this summer, and bringing back concerts and other forms of entertainment to satiate the desires of the country’s majority young population. The social push by the 32-year-old heir to the throne is part of his so-called Vision 2030, a blueprint for the country that aims to boost local spending and create jobs amid sustained lower oil prices.

The Saudi government projects that the opening of movie theatres will contribute more than 90 billion riyals ($24 billion) to the economy and create more than 30,000 jobs by 2030. The kingdom says there will be 300 cinemas with around 2,000 screens built by 2030.

Over the past several years, Saudi Arabia has gradually been loosening restrictions on movie screenings, with local film festivals and screenings in makeshift theaters. For the most part, though, Saudis who wanted to watch a film in a movie theater would have to drive to nearby Bahrain or the United Arab Emirates for weekend trips to the cinema.

In the 1970s, there were informal movie screenings but the experience could be interrupted by the country’s religious police, whose powers have since been curbed.

Saudi writer and dissident Jamal Khashoggi describes the theaters of the 1970s as being “like American drive-ins, except much more informal.” In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, he wrote that to avoid be ing arrested at one of these screenings in Medina, a friend of his broke his leg jumping off a wall to escape the religious police.

By the 1980s, movie screenings were largely banned unless they took place in private residential compounds for foreigners or at cultural centers run by foreign embassies.

Access to streaming services, such as Netflix, and satellite TV steadily eroded attempts by the government to censor what the Saudi public could view. By 2013, the film “Wadjda” made history by becoming the first Academy Award entry for Saudi Arabia, though it wasn’t nominated for the Oscars.

Movies screened in Saudi cinemas will be subject to approval by government censors, as is the case in other Arab countries. Scenes of violence are not cut, but scenes involving nudity, sex or even kissing often do get axed.

It’s not clear whether “Black Panther” will undergo a similar censorship for Wednesday’s screening, which will be attended by diplomats, i ndustry insiders, the press and the CEO of AMC Entertainment, Adam Aron. The U.S.-based AMC was granted the first license to operate a cinema in Saudi Arabia in a deal signed earlier this month in California with the crown prince.

AMC is partnering with a subsidiary of Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund, to build up to 40 AMC cinemas across the country over the next five years.

Copyright 2017 USATODAY.comSource: Google News Saudi Arabia | Netizen 24 Saudi Arabia

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By On April 18, 2018

Hooray for Hollywood: Movie theater business comes to Saudi Arabia

&times &times &times &times To view this site, you need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser, and either the Flash Plugin or an HTML5-Video enabled browser. Download the latest Flash player and try again. Hooray for Hollywood: Movie theater business comes to Saudi Arabia 1 Hour Ago

MKM Partners analyst Eric Handler discusses the business potential for AMC in Saudi Arabia, as it opens the country's first movie theater in 35 years.

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By On April 18, 2018

Can Saudi Arabia Afford Its Megaprojects?

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Irina Slav

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Irina is a writer for the U.S.-based Divergente LLC consulting firm with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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Can Saudi Arabia Afford Its Megaprojects? Riyadh skyline

Most headlines with "Saudi Arabia" in them seem to feature a hefty sum of money. A US$500-billion smart city here, a US$200-billion solar project there--it's beginning to look like Saudi Arabia wouldn't even look at a project if it costs less than a billion dollars.

One also gets the distinct feeling that Saudi Arabia is still an extremely rich nation that can afford all these projects, even without the listing of its state oil giant Aramco.

The truth, however, may be that it can't afford them even with the Aramco listing. Here's a simple calculation. The Neom city project and the SoftBank deal alone come in at US$700 billion. Add to this a US$10-billion deal with Egypt for another smart city, the US$44-billion refinery deal with three Indian companies, and a couple of smaller projects: a US$7-billion refinery in Malaysia and a US$5-billion petrochemicals complex in Sau di Arabia. The bottom line of this selection: US$766 billion.

Of course, the Kingdom won't finance all these projects on its own, but it will need to finance a certain portion of themâ€"in some of the projects, even half of the total. Also, these are not all the large-scale projects that Saudi Arabia has signed up for. Let's make a crude assumption that Riyadh's participation in the megaprojects is half, at US$383 billion. Can it afford it?

Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund, the government's investment vehicle, has US$250 billion in assets under management. Plans are to expand this to US$400 billion by 2020 through local and international investments, but right now US$250 billion is what the Kingdom has in the fund, and oil is still below its target price of US$80 a barrel. Meanwhile, the 2018 Saudi budget features a deficit of US$52 billion and some observers believe the Kingdom is stretching itself too thin with all its ambitious reform plan s. Related: The World’s Most Profitable Oil Major

So far so good, but won't Aramco's listing be enough to cover all expenses related to the megaprojects and then some? That's a tough one to answer. The Saudis themselves insist that the world's largest oil company by reserves is worth US$2 trillion. Independent experts, however, doubt that. As Bloomberg's Liam Denning recently wrote, the only way to come up with the US$2 trillion valuation is to make "some heroic assumptions."

Let's be heroic, then, and assume that Aramco is really this valuable. At a total value of $2 trillion, the 5 percent that the government in Riyadh plans to float will bring in proceeds of US$100 billionâ€"in a best-case scenario, of course. Add this to the US$250 billion currently available in the sovereign wealth fund, and you end up with US$350 billion, which is US$33 billion short of the first assumption about the six abovementioned inv estments that Saudi Arabia has committed to make.

Also, this week the Financial Times did some computer modeling on Aramco using the impressive but questionable income figures reported by Bloomberg earlier. The results revealed that Aramco would need oil to be trading at US$120 by 2023 to make it to a US$2-trillion valuation. At a price of US$64 a barrel of oil, Aramco would be worth just US$1.1 trillion, the FT said.

So, how likely are all these projects to become a reality, bearing in mind that they are by no means the only things that Riyadh will be spending money on in the coming years? Well, no one can really say because there are too many variables, but the chances look slim. Chief among them is, of course, the price of oil. The Saudis have gone an extra mile to make sure they rise, but there is only so much a producer can do, even if it isâ€"to dateâ€"the third-largest in the world. Related: Abu Dhabi Steps Up Privatization Push

The recent heat-up in Syria certainly helped, but it wasn't enough to push Brent to $80. This heat-up could deepen, benefiting Riyadh, but as some cool heads note, neither Washington nor Moscow really want a war, so it wouldn't be wise to bet on a new world war as a price driver.

Investors' appetite for the Aramco IPO is also far from a certain thing. In fact, some investors in the United States were clearly unimpressed with the prospect of acquiring Aramco stock. Investors are much more wary in the post-2014 world of oil, just like producers. In other words, that US$100 billion Riyadh eyes from the listing may never materialize.

The list of challenges could continue: the international leg of the listing will likely never happen, reducing the chances of US$100 billion in proceedings further; the budget gap will sooner or later need addressing; the private investors Saudi Arabia will count on for a lot of project financing may never get on board, and so on. In short, the Vision 2030 program of Crown Prince Mohammed might just end up like its predecessor, Vision 2025. Boy, was that ambitious!

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for the U.S.-based Divergente LLC consulting firm with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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Source: Google News Saudi Arabia | Netizen 24 Saudi Arabia

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By On April 18, 2018

Senators doubt benefit of US support for Saudi Arabia in Yemen

US officials claim their support mitigates the humanitarian crisis in Yemen [Hani Mohammed/AP Photo/File]
US officials claim their support mitigates the humanitarian crisis in Yemen [Hani Mohammed/AP Photo/File]

US senators demanded answers from the administration of President Donald Trump on its continued support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

Senators on both sides of the political spectrum accused the administration of not having a coherent strategy in Yemen as they questioned Department of State and Pentagon officials during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Tuesday.

"If your son was shooting off his pistol in the backyard and doing it indiscriminately and endangering the neighbours, would you give him more bullets or less?" Republican Senator Rand Paul asked at the hearing on Tuesday.

"Our strategy is to give [the Saudis] more bombs, not less," he added.

Ambassador David M Satterfield, the State Department's Middle East Envoy, told the panel that US "military support to the Saudi-led coalition supports important US national security and diplomatic objectives".

These included the defeat of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) and al-Qaeda in Yemen, as well as containing Iranian influence in the region.

But Democratic Senator Bob Menendez said there was an "alarming absence of strategy" when it came to the administration's approach to Yemen.

'Don't make statements that you can't back up'

The Saudi-led coalition has fought Houthi rebels i n Yemen since 2015, when it launched a military intervention in 2015 in the form of a massive air campaign aimed at reinstating the government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.

Since then, more than 10,000 people have been killed and at least 40,000 wounded, mostly from Saudi-led air raids during the war.

The Saudi-led coalition has been accused of targeting civilians and creating a humanitarian crisis through a crippling blockade, causing food insecurity and a cholera outbreak.

The Houthis, who reportedly receive support from Iran, control regions of Yemen that house the majority of the country's population. This includes the capital, Sanaa.

Satterfield warned that if the US ends its support, "the Saudis could well pursue defence relationships with countries that do not have an interest in ending the humanitarian crisis, minimising civilian casualties, or making progress towards a political solution".

But Democratic Senator Ben Cardin asked if US officials could legitimately say that US support reduced civilians casualties, since there are no figures to back up these claims.

"The proof is in the results, and we don't know whether the results are there or not," Cardin said during the hearing.

"This is the US reputation on the line, and we expect you to know if you report something. If you can't report it, fine. But don't make statements that you can't back up."

SOURCE: Al Jazeera News

Source: Google News Saudi Arabia | Netizen 24 Saudi Arabia