Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti has strongly criticized cinemas and concerts, in what appears to be a rebuke of efforts to liberalize the conservative kingdom's entertainment and cultural offerings.
"I hope those in charge of the Entertainment Authority are guided to turn it from bad to good and not to open doors to evil," Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh said during his weekly television address.
"There is nothing good in song parties, for entertainment day and night and opening of movie houses at all times is an invitation to mixing of sexes," he said.
Cinemas and concerts are currently banned throughout the kingdom.
The condemnation comes as Saudi leaders are set to implement the ambitious steps of the kingdom's cultural and economic reforms, known as Vision 2030. Among economic reforms, the plan – put forward by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman –aims to greatly enhance cultural and entertainment opportunities throughout Saudi Arabia.
Last week, Amr al-Madani, head of the government's General Authority for Entertainment said cinemas and concerts could come to the kingdom as soon as this year. Madani even said that Saudi singer Mohammed Abdo would perform in Jeddah very soon.
The move would fall in line with efforts by Prince Mohammed and other leaders to "modernize" the kingdom. Already, Saudi Arabia has begun promoting up-and-coming filmmakers and several Saudi films have drawn significant accolades at international film festivals.
But, the Grand Mufti's words demonstrate that powerful conservative elements may be at odds with some of the young leader's goals. At the same time, some have defended the Grand Mufti, saying he wasn't directly opposing reforms, but expressing caution.
Earlier this month, Prince Mohammed told Foreign Affairs that he has a strategy for avoiding serious backlash from conservatives. He said that he believes only a small percentage of Saudi clerics would be difficult to reason with. More than half would easily be persuaded to support the reforms, he said.
At the end of December, Riyadh overhauled regulations on mosque imams and preachers that have been in place for some five decades. Now, Saudi imams and preachers are forbidden from hostile expressions and from criticizing any country or person in their sermons.
Violators could see their financial perks reduced or be removed, depending on the severity.