Saudi Arabia has announced that it will allow cinemas to open in the kingdom for the first time in decades as part of social and economic reforms undertaken by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
“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 announced in a statement on Monday.
It said that the government would begin issuing cinema licenses immediately and that the first movie houses would be open by March.
The move is part of Salman’s Vision 2030, a program aimed at liberalizing the socially conservative kingdom.
“This marks a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy in the kingdom,” the information minister Awwad Alawwad said in the statement.
As recently as January, the country’s top cleric, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Al Aziz al-Shaikh, reportedly warned that cinemas breed “depravity” and corrupt the morals of the people.
As Bloomberg reports: “The kingdom hasn’t had public cinemas since the early 1980s, when the U.S. box office was dominated by films including E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and the Star Wars movie Return of the Jedi. After militants besieged the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979, most forms of public entertainment were banned and clerics were given more control over schools, courts and social life.”
In September, Saudi Arabia took the dramatic step of announcing women will soon be allowed to drive, an offense in the past that had caused women to lose their jobs and be banned for years from traveling.