As Other Arab States Falter, Saudi Arabia Seeks to Become a Cultural Hub

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — A pregnant Saudi woman, far from home, finds herself stalked by inner and outer demons. A wannabe Saudi vlogger and his friends, menaced by the internet’s insatiable appetite for content and more mysterious dangers, try to escape a dark forest. At a wedding, the mother of the bride panics when her daughter disappears with all of their guests waiting downstairs.

These were just a few of the 27 Saudi-made films premiering this month at a film festival in Jeddah, part of the conservative kingdom’s huge effort to transform itself from a cultural backwater into a cinematic powerhouse in the Middle East.

The Saudi push reflects profound shifts in the creative industries across the Arab world. Over the past century, while the name Saudi Arabia conjured little more than oil, desert and Islam, Cairo, Beirut, Damascus and Baghdad stood out as the Arab cultural beacons where blockbuster movies were made, chart-topping songs were recorded and books that got intellectuals talking hit the shelves.

to promote pro-government themes.

In many ways, the region’s cultural mantle is up for grabs, and Saudi Arabia is spending lavishly to seize it.

At the Red Sea International Film Festival, held on a former execution ground, Jeddah residents rubbernecked as stars like Hilary Swank and Naomi Campbell strutted down a red carpet in revealing gowns, and Saudi influencers D.J.-ed at dance parties.

All this in a country where, until a few years ago, women were not allowed to drive, cinemas were banned and aspiring filmmakers often had to dodge the religious police to shoot in public.

CineWaves.

Although Saudi Arabia’s population is about a fifth of Egypt’s, the Saudis are more affluent and wired, making them more likely to pay for streaming services and movie tickets. At about $18, a ticket in Saudi theaters is among the most expensive in the world.

But the kingdom only allowed cinemas to reopen only in 2018 after a 35-year ban. Before that, Saudis escaped to nearby Bahrain or Dubai to go to theaters.

Now, the country has 430 screens and counting, making it the fastest-growing market in the world, with a target of 2,600 screens by 2030, Mr. Abdulmajeed said.

Film Clinic, a Cairo-based production company.

Several Saudi-Egyptian collaborations are in the works, and an Egyptian “Hangover”-style comedy, “Wa’afet Reggala” (“A Stand Worthy of Men”), was the highest-grossing release in Saudi Arabia this year, beating the Hollywood blockbusters.

Saudi productions may also continue to draw acting, writing and directing talent from Lebanon, Syria and Egypt — and will most likely need to do so to reach non-Saudi audiences, said Rebecca Joubin, an Arab studies professor at Davidson College in North Carolina.

“With Saudi opening up, they say in Egypt that it’s saving Egypt’s movie industry,” said Marwan Mokbel, an Egyptian who co-wrote “Junoon,” the Saudi horror film about the vlogger that premiered at the Jeddah festival.

Shahid, its Dubai-based Arabic counterpart.

That has created a big market for Arabic-language content.

Netflix has produced Jordanian, Egyptian and Syrian-Lebanese shows, with varying degrees of success, and just announced the release of its first Arabic-language feature film, “Perfect Strangers.”

Syrian and Lebanese studios that used to depend on gulf financiers — who, they complained, often forced them to water down their artistic ambitions by nixing political themes — are also turning to web series and Netflix for new funding and wider audiences.

a hip alternative to the somnolent broadcast television. Mohammad Makki recalled dodging the police, guerrilla style, to film the first season of his show “Takki,” about a group of Saudi friends navigating Saudi social constraints, a decade ago. Then, it was a low-budget YouTube series. Now, it is a Netflix hit.

“We grew up dying to go to the cinema,” he said, “and now it’s two blocks from my house.”

Saudi women in the industry faced even greater challenges.

When “Wadjda” (2012), the first Saudi feature directed by a woman, was filmed, Haifaa al-Mansour, the director, was barred from mixing in public with male crew members. She worked instead from the back of a van, communicating with the actors via walkie-talkie.

“I’m still in shock,” said Ahd Kamel, who played a conservative teacher in “Wadjda,” which portrays a rebellious young Saudi girl who desperately wants a bicycle, as she walked through the festival. “It’s surreal.”

As a young actress in New York, Ms. Kamel hid her career from her family, knowing they, and Saudi society, would not approve of a woman acting. Now, she said, her family pesters her for festival tickets, and she is preparing to direct a new film to be shot in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi political, religious and cultural sensitivities are still factors, of course.

Marvel’s big-budget “Eternals” was not released in Saudi Arabia — or in Qatar, Kuwait or Egypt — because of gay romantic scenes. Several of the non-Saudi films screened at the Jeddah festival, however, included gay scenes, nudity and an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

Hisham Fageeh, a Saudi comedian and actor, said officials had told him future films should avoid touching directly on God or politics.

Sumaya Rida, an actress in the festival movies “Junoon” and “Rupture,” said the films aimed to portray Saudi couples realistically while avoiding onscreen physical affection.

But the filmmakers said they were just happy to have support, accepting that it would come at the price of creative constraints.

“I don’t intend to provoke to provoke. The purpose of cinema is to tease. Cinema doesn’t have to be didactic,” said Fatima al-Banawi, a Saudi actress and director whose first feature film the festival is funding. “It comes naturally. We’ve been so good at working around things for so long.”

Vivian Yee reported from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and Ben Hubbard from Beirut, Lebanon. Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, and Nada Rashwan from Cairo.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Middle East

Nov 21 (Reuters) – The woman who was engaged to marry Jamal Khashoggi has asked singer Justin Bieber to cancel his scheduled Dec. 5 performance in Saudi Arabia’s second-largest city Jeddah, urging him to not perform for the slain Saudi journalist’s “murderers.”

Hatice Cengiz wrote an open letter to the singer published on Saturday in the Washington Post in which she urged Bieber to cancel the performance to “send a powerful message to the world that your name and talent will not be used to restore the reputation of a regime that kills its critics.”

President Joe Biden’s administration released a U.S. intelligence report in February implicating Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Khashoggi’s 2018 murder in Istanbul but spared him any direct punishment. The crown prince denies any involvement.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to reuters.com

“Do not sing for the murderers of my beloved Jamal,” Cengiz wrote. “Please speak out and condemn his killer, Mohammed bin Salman. Your voice will be heard by millions.”

Bieber, who is Canadian, is among a group of artists scheduled to perform as Saudi Arabia hosts the Formula One Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah.

“If you refuse to be a pawn of MBS, your message will be loud and clear: I do not perform for dictators. I choose justice and freedom over money,” Cengiz wrote, using the crown prince’s initials.

Human rights groups have urged the performers to speak out against human rights issues in the kingdom.

“Saudi Arabia has a history of using celebrities and major international events to deflect scrutiny from its pervasive abuses,” Human Rights Watch said on Wednesday.

The advocacy group urged the performers, who also include rapper A$AP Rocky, DJs David Guetta and Tiesto and singer Jason Derulo, “to speak out publicly on rights issues or, when reputation-laundering is the primary purpose, not participate.”

Khashoggi, a Saudi-born U.S. resident who wrote opinion columns for the Washington Post critical of the Saudi crown prince, was killed and dismembered by a team of operatives linked to the prince in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to reuters.com

Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Will Dunham

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Apple Security Update Closes Spyware Flaw in iPhones, Macs and iWatches

The consortium did not disclose how it had obtained the list, and it was unclear whether the list was aspirational or whether the people had actually been targeted with NSO spyware.

Among those listed were Azam Ahmed, who had been the Mexico City bureau chief for The Times and who has reported widely on corruption, violence and surveillance in Latin America, including on NSO itself; and Ben Hubbard, The Times’s bureau chief in Beirut, Lebanon, who has investigated rights abuses and corruption in Saudi Arabia and wrote a recent biography of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

It also included 14 heads of state, including President Emmanuel Macron of France, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly of Egypt, Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan, Saad-Eddine El Othmani, who until recently was the prime minister of Morocco, and Charles Michel, the head of the European Council.

Shalev Hulio, a co-founder of NSO Group, vehemently denied the list’s accuracy, telling The Times, “This is like opening up the white pages, choosing 50,000 numbers and drawing some conclusion from it.”

This year marks a record for the discovery of so-called zero days, secret software flaws like the one that NSO used to install its spyware. This year, Chinese hackers were caught using zero days in Microsoft Exchange to steal emails and plant ransomware. In July, ransomware criminals used a zero day in software sold by the tech company Kaseya to bring down the networks of some 1,000 companies.

For years, the spyware industry has been a black box. Sales of spyware are locked up in nondisclosure agreements and are frequently rolled into classified programs, with limited, if any, oversight.

NSO’s clients previously infected their targets using text messages that cajoled victims into clicking on links. Those links made it possible for journalists and researchers at organizations like Citizen Lab to investigate the possible presence of spyware. But NSO’s new zero-click method makes the discovery of spyware by journalists and cybersecurity researchers much harder.

View Source

>>> Don’t Miss Today’s BEST Amazon Deals! <<<<

Former U.K. Prime Minister Faces Parliament in Lobbying Scandal

LONDON — Not many former British prime ministers adapt easily to life after 10 Downing Street or gain the respect afforded to some ex-leaders around the world.

But few have fallen as far and as fast as David Cameron, who on Thursday made his first public appearance since a lobbying scandal cast a harsh light on his character and judgment, as well as the shifting morals of British public life.

Mr. Cameron’s embarrassment is particularly surprising because more than a decade ago and before becoming prime minister, he himself had warned that a crisis over lobbying was the “next big scandal waiting to happen” following an outcry over lawmakers’ expenses.

“We all know how it works,” Mr. Cameron said in a speech in 2010. “The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisers for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way.”

as did Greensill Capital, whose financial difficulties endangered thousands of jobs, prompting a series of inquiries.

During Thursday’s hearing, Mr. Cameron kept his cool and rejected as “absurd” reports that he stood to make tens of millions of dollars from options on Greensill shares. Refusing to give details, he nonetheless conceded that he had a “serious economic interest” in its success, was paid “generously” and earned more than his previous salary as prime minister. Nor did he deny using the company’s private jet to fly to his vacation home in Cornwall.

The release of messages earlier this week revealed the extent to which the ex-prime minister, who resigned in 2016, was willing to ingratiate himself with former staff and colleagues — including one with whom he had fallen out spectacularly a few years earlier.

“I know you are manically busy — and doing a great job,” wrote Mr. Cameron to Michael Gove, a senior cabinet minister, in one text stressing that he was “on this number and v free.”

and wrote: “As for Michael, one quality shone through: disloyalty.”

In the messages sent last year, Mr. Cameron also told the chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, he was “doing a great job” — and made sure that senior officials knew about his contacts with Mr. Sunak.

“See you with Rishi’s for an elbow bump or foot tap. Love Dc,” Mr. Cameron signed off one message to Tom Scholar, the most senior civil servant at the Treasury.

in the right-leaning Daily Telegraph. She seemed to be referring to allegations Prime Minister Boris Johnson broke electoral rules in the underhanded way he was said to have financed a pricey refurbishment of his apartment.

Mr. Cameron resigned after taking the fatal gamble that he could persuade Britons to vote against Brexit in the 2016 referendum, leaving himself unexpectedly out of a job.

American intelligence agencies say ordered the killing. In a statement made in April, Mr. Cameron insisted that he took the opportunity to raise human rights issues.

On Thursday, Mr. Cameron explained his barrage of texts as a consequence of the urgency of the situation but conceded that, with hindsight, he should have made his approaches by formal letters or emails. He believed Greensill was offering good ideas to the government, Mr. Cameron said, denying that his lobbying was motivated by his financial interest.

Greensill pitched itself as an intermediary between the government and payees, offering to accelerate payments to businesses and individuals. In the case of individuals, Mr. Cameron defended the practice as a sort of populist alternative for some people to usurious payday-lending schemes. But the bulk of the lending was aimed at companies doing business with the government, and critics always questioned the wisdom of using an outside finance firm rather than simply speeding up government payments.

Professor Bale said that it was hard to think of any similarly overt lobbying of ministers from a former prime minister, not even Tony Blair, who was much criticized for his consultancy work.

“It is illustrative of a decline in standards because it used to be the case that this kind of thing ‘wasn’t done’ — and now it is,” Professor Bale said. The silver lining, he added, was that “the embarrassment caused to David Cameron might put some of his successors off.”

View Source

Showing Little Contrition, David Cameron Faces U.K. Parliament in Lobbying Scandal

LONDON — Not many former British prime ministers adapt easily to life after 10 Downing Street or gain the respect afforded to some ex-leaders around the world.

But few have fallen as far and as fast as David Cameron, who on Thursday made his first public appearance since a lobbying scandal cast a harsh light on his character and judgment, as well as the shifting morals of British public life.

Mr. Cameron’s embarrassment is particularly surprising because more than a decade ago and before becoming prime minister, he himself had warned that a crisis over lobbying was the “next big scandal waiting to happen” following an outcry over lawmakers’ expenses.

“We all know how it works,” Mr. Cameron said in a speech in 2010. “The lunches, the hospitality, the quiet word in your ear, the ex-ministers and ex-advisers for hire, helping big business find the right way to get its way.”

as did Greensill Capital, whose financial difficulties endangered thousands of jobs, prompting a series of inquiries.

During Thursday’s hearing, Mr. Cameron kept his cool and rejected as “absurd” reports that he stood to make tens of millions of dollars from options on Greensill shares. Refusing to give details he nonetheless conceded that he had a “serious economic interest” in its success, was paid “generously” and earned more than his previous salary as prime minister. Nor did he deny using the company’s private jet to fly to his vacation home in Cornwall.

The release of messages earlier this week revealed the extent to which the ex-prime minister, who resigned in 2016, was willing to ingratiate himself with former staff and colleagues — including one with whom he had fallen out spectacularly a few years earlier.

“I know you are manically busy — and doing a great job,” wrote Mr. Cameron to Michael Gove, a senior cabinet minister in one text stressing that he was “on this number and v free.”

and wrote: “As for Michael, one quality shone through: disloyalty.”

In the messages sent last year, Mr. Cameron also told the chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, he was “doing a great job” — and made sure that senior officials knew about his contacts with Mr. Sunak.

“See you with Rishi’s for an elbow bump or foot tap. Love Dc,” Mr. Cameron signed off one message to Tom Scholar, the most senior civil servant at the Treasury.

in the right-leaning Daily Telegraph. She seemed to be referring to allegations Prime Minister Boris Johnson broke electoral rules in the underhanded way he was said to have financed a pricey refurbishment of his apartment.

Mr. Cameron resigned after taking the fatal gamble that he could persuade Britons to vote against Brexit in the 2016 referendum, leaving himself unexpectedly out of a job.

American intelligence agencies say ordered the killing. In a statement made in April Mr. Cameron insisted that he took the opportunity to raise human rights issues.

On Thursday, Mr. Cameron explained his barrage of texts as a consequence of the urgency of the situation but conceded that, with hindsight, he should have made his approaches by formal letters or emails. He believed Greensill was offering good ideas to the government, Mr. Cameron said, denying that his lobbying was motivated his by financial interest.

Greensill pitched itself as an intermediary between the government and payees, offering to accelerate payments to businesses and individuals. In the case of individuals, Mr. Cameron defended the practice as a sort of populist alternative for some people to usurious payday-lending schemes. But the bulk of the lending was aimed at companies doing business with the government, and critics always questioned the wisdom of using an outside finance firm rather than simply speeding up government payments.

Professor Bale said that it was hard to think of any similarly overt lobbying of ministers from a former prime minister, not even Tony Blair, who was much criticized for his consultancy work.

“It is illustrative of a decline in standards because it used to be the case that this kind of thing ‘wasn’t done’ — and now it is,” Professor Bale said. The silver lining, he added, was that “the embarrassment caused to David Cameron might put some of his successors off.”

View Source