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After 35 years, Saudi Arabia decides that cinemas are no longer “doors to evil”

People watch a 3D movie
Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun
Coming to a screen near you.
By Aamna Mohdin
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Saudi Arabia will re-open movie theaters after a 35-year ban.

The Board of the General Commission for Audiovisual Media passed a resolution today granting licenses to cinemas, including commercial providers. Theaters will be allowed to operate in the conservative kingdom early next year.

The country had cinemas in the 1970s, but they were banned in the early 1980s following pressure from religious authorities. As recently as January, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al al-Sheikh warned against the screening of “shameless, immoral, atheistic or rotten films.” He added: “I hope those in charge of the entertainment authority are guided to turn it from bad to good and not to open doors to evil.”

The liberalization is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “Vision 2030” reform program. The plan calls for diversifying the Saudi economy, which relies on oil exports for 90% of its state budget. The government has pledged to invest billions of dollars in non-oil businesses, particular in technology.

By licensing commercial cinemas, the state hopes to encourage a more open domestic culture for its citizens. Vision 2030 aims to increase Saudi households’ share of spending on cultural and entertainment activities to 6% by 2030, from around 3% today.

The government estimates that by 2030 it will have over 300 cinemas, with more than 2,000 screens. The government hopes that fostering a domestic film industry will create more than 30,000 permanent jobs and more than 130,000 temporary jobs.

The resolution follows a number of other economic and social reforms, including the royal decree that allows women to drive from June 2018.

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