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Saudi Arabia Ends Movie Theater Ban of 35 Years

Saudis will be able to go see movies soon, after the government ended its ban of 35 years against movie theaters.

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From early in 2017, commercial movies theaters are able to be granted licenses, said the Ministry of Culture and Information of the kingdom. It expects that by March the first cinemas will be up and ready for business.

The decision to allow cinemas is a watershed moment for the development of the Kingdom’ cultural economy, said Awwad Alawwad the Minister of Culture and Information.

Saudi Arabia has been going through an economic overhaul under its Vision 2030 plan that is the kingdom’s blueprint for would the economy will be like during the next decade to lower its dependence on oil.

The government is hoping that opening theaters would act as a big catalyst for diversification and growth, creating more employment opportunities and giving Saudis more of a range in entertainment options.

There are at this time very few attractions for entertainment in a country that has such a conservative society. Many people in Saudi Arabia visit other countries for their vacations and their leisure time.

The government in Saudi Arabia wants more of its people to spend money at home. There are several signs that some of the restrictions are being relaxed already under the crown prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, who vowed he would destroy extremist ideologies and would return to Islam that was more moderate.

Women are now being allowed to drive, and starting in 2018 women can enter the largest sporting venues of the country. Men and women are allowed to mix at major conferences, and Saudi leaders allowed music concerts to be hosted in the country.

The Ministry of Culture is planning to have more than 300 cinemas and over 2,000 screens within the next 12 to 14 years. It was not clear which movie genres the kingdom will allow to be shown or if men and women are to be allowed to sit together in the cinema.

Saudi Arabia will likely turn to operators of movies in the region, as foreign movies that need subtitles in Arabic and censored to removed nudity scenes, and of a sexual nature, make it more difficult to police.

Novo Cinemas, which is based in the United Arab Emirates, said it is already considering this opportunity.

The CEO at Novo Debbie Kristianson said the company was studying its options to enter the market in Saudi, calling it a very important market.