Films would be censored to make sure they remain “in line with values and principles and do not contradict with Sharia Laws.”
Saudi Arabia Lifts 35-year Ban on Cinemas
Saudi Arabia ended a 35-year-old ban on cinemas on Monday, prompting celebrations from film fans, directors and movie chains eyeing the last untapped mass market in the Middle East, Reuters reports.
The first theaters could start showing films as early as March, the government said as part of a liberalizing reform drive that has already opened the door to concerts, comedy shows, and women drivers over the past year.
Cinemas were banned in the early 1980s under pressure from Islamists as Saudi society turned towards a particularly conservative form of the religion that discouraged public entertainment and public mixing between men and women.
But reforms led by 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman have eased many of those restrictions, as the government tries to broaden the economy and lessen its dependence on oil.
“Opening cinemas will act as a catalyst for economic growth and diversification,” said Minister of Culture and Information Awwad bin Saleh Alawwad.
“By developing the broader cultural sector, we will create new employment and training opportunities, as well as enriching the Kingdom’s entertainment options.”
In a nod to conservatives, the government said the films would be censored to make sure they remain “in line with values and principles in place and do not contradict with Sharia Laws and moral values in the kingdom.”
The details of that censorship were not announced but could be extensive in a country where images of women are often crossed out on advertising.
There was no immediate reaction from the kingdom’s Wahhabi clergy and conservative groups, who have responded to past suggestions about bringing back cinema with outraged social media campaigns.
Public objections to the reforms have been more muted in recent months, after authorities launched a spate of arrests clamping down on critics of the program.