Riyadh: Saudi Arabia has announced to lift a decades-long ban on commercial cinemas as part of social reforms led by the crown prince. Cinema theaters will be allowed to operate in the Kingdom for the first time in 35 years.
Awwad Alawwad, the information minister on Monday in a statement said: “As the industry regulator, the General Commission for Audiovisual Media has started the process for licensing cinemas in the Kingdom. We expect the first cinemas to open in March 2018.”
The announcement comes as part of the Vision 2030 social and economic reform program in the Kingdom and follows the announcement that women in the Kingdom will be allowed to drive come June 2018.
“This marks a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy in the kingdom”, said the minister.
The ban was made in the 1980s citing threat to cultural and religious identity. In January, proposals to reopen cinemas in Saudi Arabia have been strongly dismissed by the current head of the country’s religious authority.
“Motion pictures may broadcast shameless, immoral, atheistic or rotten films,” said the grand mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh, on his weekly television programme.
Saudi filmmakers have long argued that a ban on cinemas does not make sense in the age of YouTube.
The ministry made it clear that the content of movies will be subject to the parameters of the Kingdom’s information policy. It also said that they will also ensure that the movies are enriching and purposeful and that they do not contradict with the Shariah rules or undermine the country’s moral values.
“Opening cinemas will act as a catalyst for economic growth and diversification; by developing the broader cultural sector we will create new employment and training opportunities, as well as enriching the Kingdom’s entertainment options”.
According to authorities, Vision 2030 aims to increase Saudi household spending on cultural and entertainment activities from 2.9 percent currently to six percent by 2030.
The announcement opens up a domestic market of more than 32 million people and it is forecast that, by 2030, Saudi Arabia will be home to more than 300 cinemas, according to the Board of the General Commission for Audiovisual Media.