Saudi Arabia begins issuing cinema licences

Saudi Arabia began issuing licences Thursday (March 1st) to operate cinemas in the kingdom ahead of their reopening after a decades-long ban was lifted, AFP reported.

The move is another step towards opening the Saudi market to regional and international theatre chains, which have long eyed the kingdom as the Middle East's last untapped mass market.

The culture and information ministry said it had "finalised the terms of licencing to restore cinema in Saudi Arabia".

"Licencing commences immediately," the ministry added in a statement.

The news comes as Dubai-based VOX Cinemas, the leading operator in the Middle East, launches its first public screening in Saudi Arabia, which runs through Saturday and aims to raise awareness about Alzheimer's disease.

The screening in Riyadh will feature content from local producers including Myrkott Production and Telfaz Company, VOX said.

Major cinema chains are seeking to break into the market of more than 30 million people, the majority of whom are under the age of 25.

The move to reopen cinemas is part of a modernisation drive by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is seeking to balance subsidy cuts in an era of low oil prices with more entertainment options -- despite some opposition.

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Saudi Arabia starts issuing licenses for cinemas! Why should the cradle of the immortal divine message, the message of the best of prophets (PBUH), do this? These places of amusement have no place on a land that God has sanctified and purified of all filth. Nobody thought that a day would come and this immorality, both visible and invisible, would spread like this?