Saudi Arabia announces major change in movie theater rule (video)

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A 35-year-old ban on cinemas was lifted in Saudi Arabia on Monday, according to multiple news reports, the latest move toward a relaxing of social restrictions for the conservative nation.

According to Reuters, film fans are celebrating and directors and movie chains are excited by the prospect of an untapped mass market in the Middle East.

The Washington Post reports:

In a statement, the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information said the process of licensing commercial cinemas — banned since the early 1980s — was underway and the first cinemas would open early next year.

The move is part of a social and economic reform program led Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Under the crown prince, officials have recently announced they would end a ban on women driving, allow public music concerts and curb the authority of “religious police” tasked with enforcing the country’s strict social codes.

The 1980 ban was prompted by Islamists who discouraged public entertainment and public mixing between men and women. The first theaters may start showing films as early as March, according to the government, Reuters reported.

“Opening cinemas will act as a catalyst for economic growth and diversification,” said Minister of Culture and Information Awwad bin Saleh Alawwad. “By developing the broader cultural sector, we will create new employment and training opportunities, as well as enriching the Kingdom’s entertainment options.”

The government said the films would be censored, as the conservative leadership in the country wants to ensure they remain “in line with values and principles in place and do not contradict with Sharia Laws and moral values in the kingdom.”

The announcement was not addressed by the kingdom’s Wahhabi clergy and conservative groups, which were outraged by the suggestions of bringing back cinema within the past. Authorities have recently begun clamping down on critics of the program.

From the Post:

Saudi Arabia has also arrested hundreds of business executives, princes and former government officials as part of an anti-corruption drive that also appeared aimed at consolidating the crown prince’s authority as well as boosting the power of his allies.

The arrests over the last few months have included some influential clerics as well as government opponents — suggesting the crown prince could be testing how much the religious establishment will push back.

The social shifts in Saudi Arabia have, thus far, not led to the repeal of “guardianship” laws which require women to have a man’s consent to travel abroad or work.

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