Saudi Arabia allows first commercial cinemas in 35 years

The Saudi culture ministry said the first cinemas would open next March

Saudi Arabia on Monday announced a lifting of the kingdom’s decades-long ban on public cinemas. The culture ministry announced that “commercial cinemas will be allowed to operate in the kingdom as of early 2018, for the first time in more than 35 years”.

“As the industry regulator, the General Commission for Audiovisual Media has started the process for licensing cinemas in the kingdom,” Minister of Culture and Information Awwad bin Saleh Alawwad said.

“We expect the first cinemas to open in March 2018.”

At present, the only public theatre in Saudi Arabia is an IMAX cinema located in Khobar, at the Scitech complex, a science and technology centre showing technology exhibits. Other public events are held, such as festivals in Riyadh, but there are no Western-style screens.

The move comes on the heels of Saudi Arabia’s decision to overturn a longstanding ban on women driving.

Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s crown prince, has pushed a number of liberal reforms in the kingdom.

Cinemas used to operate in Saudi Arabia in the 60s and 70s. However, the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979 and the siege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca that same year led the government of Saudi Arabia to suppress many cultural activities and hand more power to the Salafist religious establishment.

At an investor summit in late October, bin Salman pledged to return Saudi to the “moderate Islam” of the pre-1979 kingdom and said the intervening years had not been “normal”.

He also promised to clamp down on the doctrines which inspired the likes of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group, which many have argued originally stem from Saudi Arabia’s “Wahhabist” establishment.

“We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas,” said the prince.

“We will destroy them today and at once.”