Saudi Arabia lifts ban on cinema after 35 years

Frederick Owens
December 14, 2017

In the latest in a series of gestures toward modernization that would once have seemed improbable, Saudi Arabia announced on Monday that it would allow commercial movie theaters to open for the first time in more than 35 years.

Saudi Arabia's Islamic clerical establishment and conservative Saudis have typically frowned upon non-religious forms of entertainment such as cinema and music.

Saudi Arabia is lifting a decades-old ban on cinemas and will allow both men and women in the audience - but media commentators don't expect to see couples sitting together watching steamy thrillers any time soon.

It is estimated that the first public movie theaters will open their doors in 2018.

"This marks a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy in the kingdom", Dr Alawwad said.

Saudi Arabia is expected to have more than 300 cinemas - with over 2,000 screens - all across the Kingdom by 2030, the ministry said in a statement. This is expected to contribute $24 billion to the Saudi economy and generate 30,000 jobs by 2030, according to AP & Bloomberg, which quoted a press release issued by the Saudi Ministry of Culture & Information.

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An official statement said the government will begin the licensing process in the next few weeks.

The country had cinemas in the 1970s, but they were banned in the early 1980s following pressure from religious authorities.

Last year, Red Sea Mall attracted 17 million visitors and could attract an additional 5 million when a movie theater is added, he said.

The modernist decision is part of bin Salman's and the government's initiative Vision 2030, which seeks to broaden their country's sources of revenue outside of the oil industry.

'It's spectacular news. We are in a state of shock, ' said Saudi actor and producer, Hisham Fageeh. Though the level of restrictions and censorship are under the radar, the move is considered as Saudi's fading face of cleric-rule.

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