Kingdom’s Vision 2030 Transfers Saudi Arabia to Vital Destination for Culture, Entertainment

Saudi Arabia Frees its Culture from Past Burdens…Entertainment is Gateway to Open Up to the World

The number of visitors to the second edition of Riyadh Season (from October 20, 2021 until the end of March 2022) exceeded 10 million people.
The number of visitors to the second edition of Riyadh Season (from October 20, 2021 until the end of March 2022) exceeded 10 million people.

Kingdom’s Vision 2030 Transfers Saudi Arabia to Vital Destination for Culture, Entertainment

There are many things in common between culture and entertainment in Saudi Arabia. A significant part of cultural activities bears a huge recreational aspect, while entertainment presents an important aspect of culture. However, the common denominator between them both in the Saudi case is that they needed government sponsorship, supervision, and incentives to be made available for citizens, residents, and the rest of the world. Among the reasons behind keeping these sectors lagging behind are considering them unproductive, which led to their weak infrastructure, limiting their potential to book publishing, songs, and amusement parks, forbidding music, and spreading the Sahwa rhetoric during the 1980s, 1990s, and the first decade of the new millennium. Although that period witnessed some of the finest Saudi cultural works, including literature, painting, history, and music, none of what is applied nowadays was available then.

Majalla Magazine was established in 1980, in line with the Sahwa trend, which took part following the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the year in which the Juhayman group seized the Grand Mosque of Makkah and the beginnings of the Afghan “jihadist” movement. Over the past 42 years, Majalla underlined Saudi intellectual and cultural openness as part of its role as the Arab international magazine. Saudi and Arab writers strived to show the true face of the Gulf country’s culture while keeping pace with the cultural and intellectual orientations that were competing to underline the developments of the Kingdom.

In 2016, the Kingdom launched its Vision 2030, which considered Saudi culture a productive sector that could be benefited from. It also founded the General Entertainment Authority (GEA), which succeeded in implementing Saudi entertainment projects using local tools, while attracting a remarkable rate of regional and global visitors within a short period. In 2018, the leadership decided to establish an independent culture ministry after it was annexed to the Ministry of Information, which it established in 1963.

Below is what Majalla covered during the past 40 years of the rapid cultural and entertainment transformations in the Kingdom, in addition to the commonalities between the cultural and entertainment sectors and the signing of a cooperation protocol between the Culture Ministry and the GEA.

"The opening of Riyadh Season on October 20, 2021."
The opening of Riyadh Season on October 20, 2021.



Since its foundation, Majalla has been keen to present the Saudi cultural figures and echo their internal interactions with the Arab environment. It is a platform for presenting the ideas of Saudi and other Arab intellectuals, artists and writers. The magazine has taken advantage of being one of the beacons of the foreign Arab press as it was established only two years after launching the pan-Arab daily newspaper, Asharq al-Awsat, in 1978. Its founders, Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz, aka the publishers, are sons of a Saudi family that was active in the fields of journalism, culture and literature. Hisham, himself, was a writer and a poet who published several books and poetry collections, which indicates that culture has been the core of the magazine.


Majalla covered modernity and postmodern trends, as well as traditional trends and various ideological backgrounds such as nationalism, liberalism, and others in the Kingdom by publishing the opinion pieces of Saudi and other Arab writers, critics and intellectuals on the cultural developments in the country. It conducted interviews with prominent and influential figures who shaped the contemporary Saudi cultural scene. These include the novelist and diplomat, Ghazi al-Gosaibi, the Saudi poet; Prince Badr bin Abdul Mohsin, the Saudi politician, artist, and poet; Prince Khalid bin Faisal; and poet Mohammed al-Thubaiti, who had toured with the fundamentalist trends since the 1980s, as well as critics Abdullah al-Ghathami, Mohammed Ali Alwan and others. It further covered music events performed by renowned Saudi singers such as Mohammed Abdu, Talal Maddah, musician Tariq Abdul Hakim, composer Omar Kadars and other playwrights and authors. It also shed light on Saudi female writers and artists, such as painter Safeya Binzagr and poet Soraya Qabel, owner of the first collection of eloquent women's poetry to be published in the name of an explicit author, and many others.


Majalla’s keenness to present Saudi women’s literary and cultural work by providing opportunities for their media appearances came in light of the rise of the fundamentalist Sahwa movement, which slammed women’s public activities.


The magazine also covered the Janadriyah Heritage and Cultural Festival, which kicked off in 1985. It described the event as a window from which the Saudis were able to present their tangible and intangible cultural production and invite Arab intellectuals to learn about the features of Saudi cultural life.

Majalla still covers the cultural transformations in the Kingdom and presents it to the Arab readers.


The Saudi Ministry of Culture was established in 2018. Before that, it was annexed to the Ministry of information, and its role was confined to controlling publication and supervising literary clubs across the Kingdom, in addition to organizing book fairs. It has taken steps towards institutionalizing the Saudi cultural work and opening more horizons for Saudi and non-Saudi creators to contribute to the development of the cultural sector. It created 11 commissions and widened the horizon of cultural interests to include cooking, fashion, architecture and translation.

These commissions are:


  1. The Heritage Commission is responsible for advancing and preserving the heritage sector in the Kingdom and supporting efforts to develop national heritage assets, raise awareness and generate interest in them.
  2. The Literature, Publishing and Translation Commission, is responsible for regulating and managing sectors by launching initiatives to enhance specialized translation work, facilitate publishing and bolster its economic feasibility by boosting the effectiveness of publishing houses and ensuring they become a profitable industry.
  3. The Fashion Commission aims to develop the sector, drive its advancement, and support practitioners in the field. It also seeks to provide funding for project owners and support talents.
  4. The Film Commission aims to raise the level of production, and encourage authors and scriptwriters by organizing competitions and launching talent initiatives. Its vision is for the Kingdom to become a world leader in filmmaking.
  5. The Visual Arts Commission aims to support painters, photographers, and specialists in various arts and provide a stimulating environment for them to compete, organize exhibitions, and represent the Kingdom in international forums.
  6. The Museum Commission is responsible for presenting the Kingdom’s identity, history, heritage, and culture to all, financing museums and initiatives to establish personal museums, and developing existing museums.
  7. The Theater and Performing Arts Commission aims to support the theatrical sector and promote financing, investment, and training projects, and develop the sector to become profitable and attract creative artists.
  8. The Libraries Commission is responsible for developing the sector to become a tributary of scientific and literary research as well as the culture and reading habitats and establishing cooperation formulas.
  9. The Music Commission aims to collect, develop and modernize Saudi music and discover new talents, in addition to supporting music production, licensing music institutes, establishing opera houses, and others.
  10. The Culinary Arts Commission, specializes in the heritage of Saudi cuisine and modern cooking schools. It aims to spread the culture of Saudi cuisine and discover culinary talents as a local cultural product.
  11. The Architecture and Design Commission is responsible for reviving the Saudi architectural heritage, as well as renovating and modernizing Saudi architecture schools, such as the Hijazi and Najd schools, among others.

The Saudi researcher interested in cultural affairs, Khalid bin Faisal, said the newly established Ministry of Culture with its young leadership does not create intellectuals or artists, as this is not its role in the first place. “Its main objective is rather preparing a cultural infrastructure that embraces all Saudi talents,” he affirmed. He pointed out that in the past, people used to learn music themselves or travel abroad to study and socialize, yet there are currently music schools across the Kingdom. He further referred to the awareness spread on intellectual property and broadcasting rights and the competitions organized to attract talents. “We also have a Cultural Development Fund, which enables entrepreneurs to submit their cultural projects and obtain funding to launch or expand them if they are existing projects.”

He stressed that Saudi Arabia now insists to produce cultural works, pointing to the movies and series broadcast on global streaming platforms. “It is a step to introduce the Saudi environment, culture, and arts.”

Cultural Tourism represents a Saudi Treasure.


The Minister of Culture, Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, is also Governor of the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) (in northwest Saudi Arabia). Many cultures and civilizations inhabited this area for more than 7,000 years, including the ancient kingdoms of Dadan and Lihyan and the magnificent Nabataeans, who built the city of Hegra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The region has become a major tourist attraction, especially with its hosting of the Kingdom’s premier music and cultural festival, “Winter at Tantora.” Since its launch in 2018, the event has transformed the city into a beacon of music, a chance to visit archaeological sites, refresh and carry out various entertaining activities.

In fact, the renaissance witnessed by the governorate is unprecedented in modern Saudi history. Many people knew about the antiquities present there, but the tourist, cultural and festive industry was only launched in 2018.

AlUla currently hosts the “Winter at Tantora” festival, which attracts many Saudi, Gulf, Arab and international artists. Hence, we find that the culture industry needs tourism, leisure, and travel to prosper. The city has been able to attract tens of thousands of tourists from Arab and Western countries, especially after the Kingdom facilitated the issuance of tourist visas in 2018.

According to Faisal, making the Saudi archaeological treasures available for international tourists has allowed the Kingdom to attract tourists. Beginning with AlUla was the best decision thanks to the antiquities there that date back to about 3,000 years. “Because antiquities, which are a cultural element par excellence, cannot establish a tourism industry on its own, holding festivals and attracting the most renowned artists and hosting entertainment events and hotel facilities were a means of promoting the country’s cultural and tourism sectors.”

This underlines the importance of entertainment, which was lacking in the Kingdom. Saudis needed it more than foreigners, especially as they spent about $18 billion in 2019 on tourism abroad.


In 2016, a fundamental transformation took place in Saudi Arabia, represented by the establishment of the GEA. Prior to that year, the Kingdom didn’t host any special event that satisfies the tastes of its citizens, who are used to traveling the world and exploring entertainment activities, including games, musical concerts, restaurants, art galleries, and shopping.

An economically rich country with a young leadership and a promising vision should have a decent entertainment sector that keeps pace with the Quality of Life Program, which constitutes an essential part of the Kingdom's 2030 Vision. Therefore, the authority was established to prepare the infrastructure to create a suitable entertainment sector.

"The Red Sea Film Festival is best example of the integration of sectors to make the Kingdom a regional and global entertainment destination."
The Red Sea Film Festival is the best example of the integration of sectors to make the Kingdom a regional and global entertainment destination.

The state’s handling of the sector is not common since entertainment activities are usually provided by the private sector. However, in this case, the, situation differs as the Kingdom did not have an entertainment sector in the first place. Leading the transformation in this direction, which is closely related to the tourism and cultural transformation, needs government heft and money to prepare the right infrastructure while delegating the private sector to implement the projects.

The entertainment authority was needed to organize and schedule musical concerts, while the private sector, such as restaurants, started creating their own entertainment programs and holding their celebrations.

The GEA’s steps began to actually bear fruit. For example, the number of visitors to the second edition of Riyadh Season, which was launched on October 20, 2021, and will last until the end of March 2022, exceeded 10 million people.

GEA Governor Turki Al Sheikh said that “direct and indirect income” from Riyadh Season 2019 amounted to $1.6 billion, while expenses amounted to $800 million. He also expected an increase in income for the 2021 season with lower expenses. The final figures will be announced at the end of the season.

The Saudi entertainment sector is associated with other sectors, such as culture and tourism. For example, the Red Sea Film Festival is a cultural, entertaining, and touristic event. It is the best example of the integration of sectors to make the Kingdom a regional and global entertainment destination.

Saudi Arabia has taken further steps and launched creative initiatives in the entertainment, culture, and tourism sectors to enter the post-oil era with greater confidence, especially with boosting the relative size of these sectors in the GDP.

Figures remain the only language adopted by the new Kingdom.

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