Saudi Arabia seeks French help for music, opera

Paris: Saudi Arabia is to use French expertise to set up a national opera and orchestra under an agreement signed Monday that underlined the modernising agenda of Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman as he began his official trip to Paris.

The deal will see the Paris opera company help the kingdom produce its own classical music and shows, a further sign of Prince Mohammad’s desire to change the image of his homeland.


He has already announced the lifting of a ban on women driving, the re-opening of cinemas for the first time in over three decades and new mixed-gender concerts.

The kingdom revealed Monday that it would enter short films at the Cannes cinema festival for the first time and send an official delegation to the celebration of often edgy and subversive silver-screen art on the Riviera this May.

Speaking with her Saudi counterpart, French Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen said she had also discussed “the importance of translating books in both directions, from Arabic into French and French into Arabic”.

Prince Mohammad dined with President Emmanuel Macron at Paris’s historic Louvre museum on Sunday night after flying in on his first trip to France as the heir to the Saudi throne.

Macron, 40, faces a diplomatic tightrope in talks with the prince as he seeks to bolster his ties with the world’s top oil exporter, while also managing relations with the kingdom’s arch-rival Iran.

The crown prince’s visit is part of a global tour that has seen him travel to the United States, Britain and Egypt.

Saudi and French aides had stressed before the trip that cultural ties, as well as new business opportunities, would be at the heart of two days of talks between government and private-sector figures from both countries.

In February, Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) announced it would stage more than 5,000 festivals and concerts in 2018, double the number of last year, and pump $64 billion in the sector in the coming decade.

The kingdom has hosted a series of concerts in recent months by artists such as Lebanon’s Hiba Tawaji, legendary Greek composer Yanni or Egyptian pop sensation Tamer Hosny.

The announcement about the Cannes film festival came after Prince Mohammad dined at media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s house last week in the US along with studio bosses from Hollywood and famed American actors including Morgan Freeman.

“With a rich tradition of storytelling, Saudi Arabia is embarking on the development of a sustainable and dynamic (film) industry,” Culture Minister Awwad Al Awwad said in a statement sent to AFP on Monday.

Ahead of Prince Mohammad’s trip to France, Saudi officials suggested relations were strong between him and Macron, both young leaders with reformist agendas.

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