A 35-year ban on movie theaters in Saudi Arabia is over, as the government announced Monday that a Hollywood-style entertainment complex could open early next year.
The decision to lift the ban is part of an ambitious plan called “Vision 2030” from Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, by which the kingdom intends to reduce its dependence on oil revenues and modernize its economy.
The opening of theaters, like the recently announced overturning of prohibitions against female drivers, is a part of the plan. Commercial theaters have been banned in Saudi Arabia since the mid-1980s, when Saudi officials demanded stricter religious adherence in response to a wave of Islamic fervor in the region.
Awwad Alawwad, Saudi culture and information minister, called Monday’s theater announcement a “watershed moment.”
“Opening cinemas will act as a catalyst for economic growth and diversification; by developing the broader cultural sector we will create new employment and training opportunities, as well as enriching the Kingdom’s entertainment options,” he said.
The government in Riyadh said the Saudi movie industry will add $24 billion to the country’s gross domestic product by 2030, with the construction of hundreds of theaters and the employment of 30,000 people.
Part of the Vision 2030 plan involves a doubling of household spending on cultural and entertainment activities. Saudis now often travel to the neighboring United Arab Emirates for movies, theme parks and other entertainment.
“It’s a huge population that basically has nothing to do,” said Karim Atassi of Middle East entertainment chain Cinemacity, “Everyone on the exhibition side is racing to get their foot in.”
He added that the theaters his company hopes to construct in Saudi Arabia will have separate seating sections for women and children, and for men.
Saudi Arabia’s first movie theater could be open by March.
A statement Monday from the Ministry of Culture and Information said, “The General Authority for Audiovisual Media will begin preparing the steps of the executive procedures necessary to open cinemas in the kingdom as the regulator of the sector.”
By Ed Adamczyk