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Diva duet: Paris to help Riyadh assemble ensemble

Coming soon to Riyadh? [Getty]

Date of publication: 9 April, 2018

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The agreement to set up an opera and national orchestra was announced on Monday by the French and Saudi ministers of culture.

France and Saudi Arabia struck an deal on Monday that will see the ultra-conservative kingdom set up an opera and a national orchestra. 

"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 and de facto Saudi leader, dined with President Emmannuel Macron at Paris' Louvre museum on Sunday after flying in on his first trip to France as heir to the Saudi throne. 

The crown prince's trip is part of a global tour that has already included stops in the US, Britain and Egypt. MbS, as he is known, has used the attention to project an image of Saudi Arabia modernising and introducing rapid cultural and economic changes. 

Riyadh is currently implementing the crown prince's ambitious Vision 2030, a social and economic transformation plan that is hoped to weed the kingdom off its dependency on oil. Part of that vision is seeking further foreign investment in the kingdom. 

Backed by high-power lobbying and public relations firms, the prince is seeking to change the image of his homeland as an ultra-conservative country that subjugates women.

He has announced an end to the ban on women driving and has authorised cinemas for the first time in over three decades. 

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.

But critics also warn of a "public relations coup", saying that bin Salman's contradictory programme of authoritarian-led liberalisation has been accompanied by a crackdown on social media and dissent.


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