After decades of being banned from Saudi Arabia, national authorities have announced that movie theaters will once again be allowed in its borders, in a landmark decision.
The conservative, Muslim-majority kingdom banned movie theaters 35 years ago under the argument that the medium was sinful. It's an attitude that hasn't entirely changed. Only a few months ago, "The grand mufti, Saudi Arabia’s highest religious authority, publicly called commercial films a source of 'depravity' and opposed the opening of movie theaters," The New York Times reports.
Regardless, many Saudis have been enjoying film one way or another throughout the generation-long ban. Home viewing and trips to foreign countries have made movie-going possible, if not easy, though many titles are highly edited to conform with local standards.
Now, in just one of the many signs that the kingdom is quickly modernizing and moderating its theocratic system of laws, the Ministry of Culture and Information says it will start licensing cinemas beginning next month. The Times reports that Saudis can expect the first public film theaters to open early next year. The aim would be to have 200 theaters and 3,000 screens throughout the kingdom.
“This marks a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy in the kingdom,” the Minister of Culture and Information said in a statement.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman proposed lifting the ban in a push for social reform. This marks another plank in his ongoing platform to increase social freedoms, called Vision 2030. Designed to to both cater to the kingdom's majority youth population and attract more foreign investments and workers to help local job growth and enterprise, Vision 2030 has already seen restrictions against concerts and other forms of entertainment that the country was once wary of lifted. As well, women were given the right to drive earlier this year.
Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia remains one of the most conservative nations on the planet, where rights for women, non-citizens and LGBT individuals are either limited or non existent.
Regardless, many on Twitter expressed excitement at the prospect of moving away from conservative dogma and, yes, getting a chance to sit down in a theater with their fellow citizens, a bit of popcorn and enjoy a good night out at the movies.
The mission of crown-prince MBS of Saudi-Arabia: bringing Islam back to the center, where it was before 1979 in his country. With music, cinema's, mixed concerts. https://t.co/bNhFxtRRPX
— Martijn v. der Kooij 🔰 (@MartijnvdKooij) November 24, 2017
— Michael Zhang 張雨軒 (@YuxuanMichael) December 11, 2017
Wow...Saudi Arabia is on a role! First allowing women to drive and now the 30 year ban on commercial cinemas will be lifted! Conservatives probably fearing that the ban on "street photography" may be next on the Prince's agenda! #SaudiCinema #SaudiArabiahttps://t.co/Q3uZhRuQBN — Abdullah Imad 😎 ⚜ (@DeadJusticE3) December 11, 2017