Saudis will soon be able to go to the movies for the first time in more than 35 years.
From early next year, commercial movie theaters will be granted licenses, said Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Culture and Information in a statement on Monday. It expects the first cinemas to open their doors in March.
Saudi Arabia lifted a 35-year ban on cinemas on Tuesday, marking steps towards creating a more modern society under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
This is the first time that cinemas have been licensed since their ban in the early 1980s, when the country’s leadership moved towards stricter observance of traditional and Islamic law.
The kingdom’s reissuing of cinema licenses is part of ” Vision 2030 ,” a major modernization effort spearheaded by Salman. Vision 2030seeks to “open up the country, diversify the economy and make the Kingdom a global destination for business and tourism.”
Announcing the move on Monday, the culture minister, Awwad Alawwad, said: “This marks a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy in the kingdom. 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 was widely welcomed but left some citizens worried that the breakneck speed of change would lead to a pushback in a country that for decades has been one of the world’s most culturally austere and restrictive.
Salman has been first in line to the throne since June and has overseen a number of progressive economic and social reforms.
In September, Salman decreed women would finally be allowed to drive and the next month it was announced women would be allowed into sports stadiums for the first time.
And in October, Salman announced to build $500 billion megacity to boost the country’s efforts to diversify from crude oil.
That same month Salman told he would to return the country to “moderate Islam,” and added that laws from the last few decades years had left the country “not normal.”
Salman also said the new laws would reflect the opinions of the large number of millennials in Saudi Arabia, who, he implied, favour a more inclusive and forward-thinking version of Islam.
The rollout of reforms includes allowing women to drive by next June, watering down laws that have severely limited women’s movements without the consent of a male guardian, and allowing women into sports stadiums. It has also led to a crackdown on corruption that has implicated senior royals and some of the kingdom’s most senior businessmen and led to claims that its architect – the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman – has used the purge to consolidate his rule.
Saudi Arabia’s highest-ranking cleric spoke in January of the “depravity” of cinemas, saying they would corrupt morals, but the authorities appear to be shrugging off the resistance.
“70% of the Saudis are younger than 30, honestly we won’t waste 30 years of our life combating extremist thoughts, we will destroy them now and immediately,” Salman said.
For now, cinemas are likely to open by March 2018, and the government hopes to license over 300 cinemas by 2030.
Image Source: FAYEZ NURELDINE / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE — GETTY IMAGES