Saudi Arabia Says It Will Allow Cinemas After Decades-Long Ban

The Minister of Culture, Awwad bin Saleh Alawwad, welcomed the measure as a strategic move in the economic diversification of the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia's main sovereign wealth fund said it planned to enter the cinema business with major USA -based movie exhibition company AMC Entertainment Holdings, as the conservative kingdom lifts a 35-year-old ban on cinemas.

In the 1980s, movie theatres in Saudi Arabia were banned, considered a threat to religious and cultural identity.

Theater-goers are expected to be lining up in March 2018 when movie houses will again be licensed. "By developing the broader cultural sector we will create new employment and training opportunities, as well as enriching the kingdom's entertainment options", he added. The projected revenue is 90 billion riyals (or $24 billion), which will be bolstered by the creation of more than 30,000 jobs, the A.P. notes.

The project is also a part of a comprehensive reform program aimed at reducing the country's dependence on oil.

Karim Atassi, who handles business development for Middle East cinema chain Cinemacity, told Variety that the complexes they hope to build in Saudi Arabia would have separate seating sections for men and for women and children.

"It's spectacular news. We are in a state of shock", said Saudi actor and producer Hisham Fageeh.

A large number of people from Saudi Arabia used to visit the neighboring UAE to go to see movies in theatres.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has tightened his grip on power through overturning established social norms in the kingdom since his rise to power in 2015.

Saudi Arabia announced Monday that it will allow movie theaters to open in the conservative kingdom next year in the latest social push by the country's young crown prince. However, he has also arrested several clerics and activists and detained senior princes and businessmen in what the government calls an anti-corruption campaign.