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Saudi Arabia to allow movie theaters for first time in decades

by Associated Press /
Image: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Fayez Nureldine / AFP - Getty Images

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RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Arabia announced on Monday it will allow movie theaters to open in the conservative kingdom for the first time in more than 35 years.

Movie theaters were shut down in the 1980s during a wave of ultraconservatism in the country. Many of Saudi Arabia's clerics view Western movies and even Arabic films made in Egypt as sinful.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has recently backed reforms including lifting a ban on women driving and bringing back concerts and other forms of entertainment. The 32-year-old heir to the throne has also sought ways to boost local spending and create jobs amid lower oil prices.

According to Monday's announcement, a resolution was passed paving the way for licenses to be granted to commercial movie theaters, with the first cinemas expected to open in March 2018.

Saudi filmmakers and movie buffs have been able to circumvent traditional censors by streaming movies online and watching films on satellite TV. Many also travel to neighboring countries like Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to go to movie theaters.

Image: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Fayez Nureldine / AFP - Getty Images

It was not immediately clear if movie theaters would have family-only sections, segregating women and families from the male-only audience. Another unknown was whether most major Hollywood, Bollywood and Arabic movie releases would be shown in theaters and how heavily edited the content will be.

The Ministry of Culture and Information did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The government says it will announce regulations in the coming weeks.

The kingdom says there will be 300 cinemas with around 2,000 screens built in the country by 2030.

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