Paris (AFP) – France is to help Saudi Arabia set up a national orchestra and opera, a minister announced Monday, a further sign of major cultural changes underway in the ultra-conservative Gulf kingdom.
“Today an agreement was signed with the Paris Opera to help Saudi Arabia set up a national orchestra and an opera,” French Culture Minister Francoise Nyssen told a press conference after talks with her Saudi counterpart.
Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, 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.
The prince has used a global tour that has seen him travel to the US, Britain and Egypt to project an image of a modern reformer of his austere kingdom, which is still governed according to an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam.
Backed by high-power lobbying and public relations firms, the prince is seeking to change the image of his homeland which is often associated in the West with jihadist ideology and subjugating women.
He has announced the lifting of a ban on women driving and has authorised cinemas for the first time in over three decades as part of his pledge to spread a more moderate version of Islam.
The move to reopen cinemas was seen by analysts as a bid to balance unpopular subsidy cuts in an era of low oil prices with more entertainment options — despite opposition from religious hardliners.
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.