Saudi Arabia lifts decades-long ban on cinemas

Saudi Arabia on Monday (December 11th) lifted a decades-long ban on cinemas, AFP reported.

The government said it would begin licensing cinemas immediately and the first movie theatres are expected to open in March.

"Commercial cinemas will be allowed to operate in the kingdom as of early 2018, for the first time in more than 35 years," the culture and information ministry said in a statement.

"This marks a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy in the kingdom," the statement quoted Information Minister Awwad Alawwad as saying.

Saudi Arabia is expected to have more than 300 cinemas -- with over 2,000 screens -- all across the kingdom by 2030, the ministry said.

Like most public spaces in the kingdom, cinema halls are expected to be segregated by gender or have a separate section for families.

The social transformation chimes with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's recent pledge to return Saudi Arabia to an "open, moderate Islam" and destroy extremist ideologies.

Saudi filmmakers have long argued that a ban on cinemas does not make sense in the age of YouTube, and Saudi films have been making waves abroad.

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This is a swift shift in the policies that have been in place for long. We wanted the country of the Two Holy Mosques to maintain its stance from these things which can have a bad effect on the centre of Muslim sanctities.