Saudi Arabia plans to spend about $13bn by 2020 on an initiative to promote entertainment, health, sports and education as part of a modernising drive by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
At an event in Riyadh on Thursday, Ahmed al-Khatib, chairman of the General Entertainment Authority (GEA), said the programme, called Quality of Life, should generate 300,000 jobs in the next two years.
“The initiatives will cost a total of 50 billion riyals ($13.33bn), and government spending will be around 60 percent, with 40 percent from the private sector,” Khatib told Reuters.
“The entire benefit from this big spending will be for the private sector, and this supports the 2030 Vision that strengthens the role of the private sector.”
Khatib listed a water park, three theme parks, museums and more cinemas as projects in the initiative, which is itself part of a National Transformation Plan that includes hundreds of steps to modernise the economy and society by 2020.
Retired French footballer Thierry Henry, American actress Katie Holmes and British actor Idris Elba attended the event to promote the initiative and Saudi Arabia’s image to an international audience.
Saudi female fencer Lubna al-Omair told the crowd she enjoyed riding her bike and going to museums when she studied abroad.
“One of the things I was worried I would lose (when I moved back home) was the sport I had gotten attached to and that had become a part of me,” she said, adding that now she could practice fencing.
Saudi Arabia has undergone many changes in recent months, holding concerts and opening cinemas. The moves in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom are being hailed as proof of progress spearheaded by bin Salman, who has appealed to the young since his ascendance to power.
The kingdom’s strict social customs and rapid development created a nation in which community is highly valued but opportunities for public gathering are scarce.