Saudi Arabia has lifted a 35-year-old ban on cinemas, with commercial movie theaters expected to open as soon as next March.
A resolution allowing the Culture Ministry to license commercial cinemas has been passed, and the licensing process started for new theatres.
The announcement marks the first time in 35 years that cinema theaters will be allowed to operate in the country.
Meanwhile, the Board of the General Commission for Audiovisual Media (GCAM), which is chaired by the Minister of Culture and Information Awwad Alawwad, passed a resolution on Monday allowing the authority to grant licenses to cinemas.
In a released statement, Alawwad 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.
The move marks the first time that cinemas have been licensed in the country since the early 1980s.
“This marks a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy in the Kingdom,” Alawwad added in the statement.
“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.”
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.
In October Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman vowed to restore “moderate, open” Islam in the kingdom.
“We are returning to what we were before — a country of moderate Islam that is open to all religions and to the world,” he had said at an economic forum in Riyadh.
“We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today. We will end extremism very soon,” he said.
The month before, Saudi Arabia had announced that it will allow women to drive from next June.
Salman was said to have conceived the decision, as part of the Saudi government’s major “reform drive” dubbed as ‘Vision 2030.’
The announcement followed a first of its kind gender-mixed celebration of Saudi national day.
“With more than half the country aged under 25, Prince Mohammed, the architect of Vision 2030, is seen as catering to the aspiration of the youth with an array of entertainment options and promoting more women in the workforce,” AFP had reported at the time of Saudi announcement to lift ban on women drivers.