35 Years Later, Ban On Pubic Cinemas Ended In Saudi Arabia

In what is a first in the last 35 years, Saudis would now be bale to watch movies in theaters in the country.

This measure that was announced by the Saudi authorities – allowing public cinemas, is being described as another step in the falling the of religiously-inspired restriction even as the kingdom is attempting to refurbish its economy from a petroleum dependent one.

The Ministry of Culture and Information said in a statement on Monday that March 2018 is the expected time when the first multiplexes would be opened up. The announcement further said that there are expectations of creation of about 30,000 permanent jobs till 2030 where the kingdom aims to open up at least 2,000 screens which would be placed in more than 300 cinemas. The kingdom also expects that the film industry would add about $24 billion to the economy of the country resulting in the jobs.

At the time when films like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and the Star Wars movie Return of the Jedi dominated the U.S. box office – in the early 1980s, was when public cinemas were banned b the kingdom. More control over schools, courts and social life were given to clerics after the besiege of the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979 by militants. The incident also resulted in the closure of most forms of public entertainment in the kingdom.

Bold measures such as revoking the ban on women driving vehicles inn Saudi Arabia, established social m-norms are being broken down by the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ever since his rise to power in 2015. However, he has also cracked down on dissent and has arrested dozens of clerics and activists and has even ordered and detained senior princes and businessmen This drive by the crown prince has been identified as an anti-corruption campaign.

The Information Ministry said that the cinema plan is “central to the government’s program to encourage an open and rich domestic culture for Saudis.”

Modes of entertainment such as films and music are identified as non-religious forms of entertainment and are typically frowned down upon by Saudi’s Islamic clerical establishment and a section of the Saudi public who are conservative. There is strong enforcement of gender segregation in the kingdom and for this purpose, religious police still patrol the country’s shopping malls.

Whether there would be family only sections in the cinema or whether men would have different show times is not yet clear from the announcement that was made by the government. According to a ministry statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency, the films would not “contradict with Sharia Laws and moral values” because they would be edited according to the “standards of the Kingdom”.

Media companies looking for new markets for their films is anticipated to get attracted towards investing in this new market by the decision to open cinemas. The presence of its Vox Cinemas unit’s presence in Saudi Arabia would be increased by close collaboration with thte Saudi authorities, said Majid Al Futtaim, a Dubai-based developer of shopping malls and entertainment facilities.

(Adapted from Bloomberg)


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