Saudi Arabia Is Finally Lifting Its Ban on Movie Theaters

Saudi Arabia's Ministry of Culture and Information announced on December 11 that it would allow cinemas to operate beginning in early 2018, 35 years after Risky Business and Flashdance made a splash in theaters.

In a statement, Saudi Culture & Information Minister Dr Awwad Alawwad said: "This marks a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy in the Kingdom".

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been overturning long-running social norms in the country since coming to power in 2015, including allowing women to drive cars.

Cinemas were shut down in the 1980s during a wave of ultra-conservatism - many clerics view Western movies and even Arabic films made in Egypt and Lebanon as sinful.

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While Hollywood is celebrating the newly announced Golden Globe nominations, Saudi Arabia is celebrating something very different: a new law that will once again allow movie theaters to operate.

"Noon brings a dynamic, locally-driven and customer-oriented digital marketplace to the Kingdom serving the community and offering a new retail and much improved experience", said Alabbar. That makes the new move a blow to the country's religious establishment: Saudi Arabia's highest-ranking religious authority, Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh, warned against the "depravity" of commercial theaters in January, and opposed their opening at least as recently as a few months ago.

A large number of people from Saudi Arabia used to visit the neighboring UAE to go to see movies in theatres. "It shows that cinemas in the kingdom have become important", he added.

Saudi Arabia is expected to have more than 300 cinemas - with over 2,000 screens - by 2030, giving rise to an industry that would contribute US$24 billion (RM97.8 billion) to the economy, according to the Saudi culture ministry.

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