Saudi Arabia has lifted a decades-long ban on cinemas, part of a series of social reforms by the powerful crown prince that are shaking up the ultra-conservative kingdom.
The government said it would begin licensing cinemas immediately and the first movie theatres are expected to open next March, in a decision that could boost the kingdom’s nascent film industry.
Reviving cinemas would represent a paradigm shift in the kingdom, which is promoting entertainment as part of a sweeping reform plan for a post-oil era, despite opposition from conservatives who have long vilified movie theatres as vulgar and sinful.
“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.
Like most public spaces in the kingdom, cinema halls are expected to be segregated by gender or have a separate section for families.
Saudi Arabia in recent months has organised music concerts, a Comic-Con pop culture festival and a mixed-gender national day celebration that saw people dancing in the streets to thumping electronic music for the first time.
Saudis themselves appear quietly astounded by the torrid pace of change – including the historic decision allowing women to drive from next June.