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RIYADH, April, 19, 2018 - Saudi Arabia launched its first commercial movie theater, ending a nearly 40-year ban on cinemas under a push by the crown prince to modernize the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom.

A red carpet invitation-only gala event attracted senior government officials, foreign dignitaries and select industry figures to watch Marvel’s superhero movie “Black Panther” on a 45-foot screen at a converted symphony concert hall in Riyadh.

 “Saudis now are going to be able to go to a beautiful theater and watch movies the way they’re supposed to be watched: on a big screen,” Adam Aron, chief executive of operator AMC Entertainment Holdings, told Reuters ahead of the screening.

The smell of buttery popcorn filled the air as confetti rained down through the multi-story atrium where Aron and Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Awwad al-Awwad announced the launch and proceeded into the 450-seat hall.

The opening marks another milestone for reforms spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to open the country culturally and diversify the economy of the world’s top oil exporter.

JEDDAH, April 18, 2018 (AFP) — Colourful and oozing defiance, a sports-friendly version of the abaya gown was once considered a symbol of cultural rebellion in conservative Saudi Arabia, but it is fast becoming the new normal.

Pictures of female athletes running in the garb in the Red Sea city of Jeddah went viral last month, setting off a new debate on sartorial freedoms for women in a country where the typically all-black, body-shrouding garment is obligatory in public.

Some cultural purists vented fury online, calling it a breach of tradition, but opposition has been largely muted following recent comments from powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that the abaya — any abaya — is not mandatory in Islam.

Until a formal edict comes however, designers such as Eman Joharjy are cashing in on the growing popularity of the so-called sports abayas, as many women push back against traditional attitudes of equating chastity with dress code.

“There is a big demand,” Joharjy told AFP at her fashion studio in Jeddah.

“Having them in different colours is empowering.”

Akin to a zippered jumpsuit, sports abayas envelop a woman’s body but offer greater mobility for sporting activities, in contrast to the classic baggy version where tripping on the hem of the flowing garment is a common risk.

The 43-year-old’s designs come in colours like pistachio green, beige and white — more tolerable in the kingdom’s scorching heat — and she uses natural fabrics, including French poplin, that do not cling to a sweating body.

One of the early pioneers of the trend, Joharjy said she was branded a social outlier and jeered by some as “batman” when she began designing — and donning — sports abayas publicly in 2007.

“There was a little bit of rebellion but I designed it for myself, because it’s practical,” she said.

“You zip up and are ready to go.”

‘Football-themed abayas’

Joharjy has defied a popular maxim in Saudi Arabia: “If it’s not black, it’s not an abaya.”

Abayas have evolved over the years, with new patterns, fabrics and embellishments, and they are sometimes worn in the kingdom with baseball-style caps over headscarves.

The latest fad is an eye-catching ensemble of “football-themed abayas” — in the colours of the local teams, a new way for female sporting fans to cheer for their favourite players.

Such fashion trends are gaining momentum amid the kingdom’s liberalisation drive, including a historic royal decree allowing women to drive from June and enter sports stadiums for the first time.

The government is also seeking to jump-start women’s sports and is moving toward compulsory physical education classes for girls, after a ban was lifted in 2014.

Saudi officials recently announced that women would be able to participate next year in the Riyadh international marathon, previously a male-only event.

Women exercising in public were long a target for the kingdom’s austere religious police, which has largely been neutered in recent years.

And the once-unthinkable idea of doing away with the abaya appears to now be gaining traction.

“The laws are very clear and stipulated in the laws of Sharia: that women wear decent, respectful clothing, like men,” Prince Mohammed told CBS Television last month.

“This, however, does not particularly specify a black abaya. (It) is entirely left for women to decide what type of decent and respectful attire to wear.”

‘Modest look’

Muslim cleric Sheikh Ahmed bin Qassim al-Ghamdi added a new wrinkle to the debate when he dismissed the long-held view that black was the only colour for abayas permissible in Islam.

“The cloak is meant for maintaining a modest look and it does not have to be black,” the former chief of the religious police in the holy city of Mecca, told Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya television last month.

But the risk of a social backlash is real in a society steeped in conservatism.

“They look like cleaners!” a tweet said, in response to viral images of athletes dressed in sports abayas.

“Their purpose is not sports. We have all been running in full body veil,” tweeted another.

Back at Joharjy’s studio, a long-time client Marwa al-Hadi walked in wearing one of her designs with magenta sneakers.

“Abaya is like the Indian saree, it is part of our identity,” Joharjy told her, as they weighed in on the future evolution of the garment.

“But at the same time, if God did not want women to do sports, we would not have muscles or a body.”

Hadi nodded.

“It is no one’s business to stop and question what I’m wearing,” she said.

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, April 18, 2018 (AP) — Saudi Arabia will hold a private screening of the Hollywood blockbuster “Black Panther” to herald the launch of movie theatres that are set to open to the public next month.

Authorities are planning an invitation-only screening of the movie in a concert hall that’s been converted into a cinema complex in the capital, Riyadh.

Wednesday’s screening will be followed by a rush to build movie theatres in major cities.

Over the past several years, Saudi Arabia has gradually loosened restrictions on movie screenings, with local film festivals and screenings in makeshift theatres. In the 1970s, there were informal movie screenings, but the experience could be interrupted by the country’s religious police.

CAIRO, April 12, 2018 (MENA) - Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry headed for Saudi Arabia Thursday to take part in preparatory meetings of the 29th Arab Summit, scheduled to be held in Dammam city on Sunday. During their meeting, Arab foreign ministers will discuss the latest development in the Middle East region, particularly the situation in Palestine, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq. The top Arab diplomats will also tackle efforts exerted to counter terrorism and strengthen joint Arab action to prevent any foreign interference in the domestic affairs of Arab countries. The Arab foreign ministers will confer with UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura to discuss the political and humanitarian situation in Syria. Shoukry will hold meetings with his Arab counterparts to discuss means of boosting bilateral relations and the latest developments at the regional and international levels.

DUBAI/GENEVA, April 4, 2018 (Reuters) - Yemen’s Houthi group hit a Saudi oil tanker off the main port city of Hodeidah on Tuesday, the Saudi-led coalition said, in an attack that could complicate a new United Nations push to end a war that has killed more than 10,000 people.

The Iranian-aligned Houthis said they had targeted a coalition warship in response to an air strike on Hodeidah on Monday that killed at least a dozen civilians, including seven children.

Tensions have been rising in recent days after the Houthis, who control most of northern Yemen, launched a series of missile strikes on Saudi Arabia, including the capital Riyadh, in recent days.

In a statement carried by Saudi media, the coalition said the oil tanker was in international waters when it came under “Houthi-Iranian attack” at around 1330 local time (1030 GMT).

A coalition warship conducted a “swift intervention” foiling the attack, it said, without identifying the type of weapon used in the assault. “As a result of that attack, the tanker was subjected to a slight but ineffective hit and it resumed its naval course northwards, escorted by a coalition warship,” the statement said.

A European Union naval force that operates in the region confirmed the ship was underway, adding that the crew were safe and unharmed.

The media department of the Houthi-run Yemeni military said naval forces had “targeted a battleship belonging to the coalition in response to the bombardment of displaced people in Hodeidah”. It gave no further details.

The department’s text message was referring to an air strike by the Saudi-led coalition on Monday in Houthi-controlled Hodeidah that destroyed a house and killed 12 civilians from the same family, including seven children.

A coalition spokesman said the alliance takes the report very seriously, promising a full investigation.

Last week, Saudi air defences intercepted a flurry of missiles, and falling debris caused the first death in the capital Riyadh.

Saudi Arabia accuses Iran of supplying missiles to the Houthis, who have taken over the Yemeni capital Sanaa and other parts of the country. Tehran and the Houthis deny the charge.

LONDON (Reuters) - Oil rose on Tuesday, boosted by the prospect of a potential slowdown in US crude production growth, although higher Russian output and Saudi Arabia possibly cutting its selling prices acted as a drag.

The mood across financial markets was cautious after China announced last week it would slap extra tariffs on 128 US products, deepening a dispute between the world's two biggest economies and stoking concerns about the impact on global growth.

Brent crude futures were last up 47 cents on the day at $68.11 a barrel by 08:56 GMT, while West Texas Intermediate futures were up 39 cents at $63.40 a barrel.
Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at futures brokerage AxiTrader, said traders were wary of the fact that the market was still holding large amounts of long positions, which will need to be sold off at some stage.

“That makes prices vulnerable to bad news,” he said, pointing to rising Russian production and the likely drop in Saudi physical crude prices.

Money managers raised their bets on a sustained price rise in Brent crude to the highest level on record last week, bringing total long holdings of futures and options to the equivalent of more than 615 million barrels.

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