For being one of the wealthiest nations in the world, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is also well-known for being one of the most culturally-repressive of all. Much has been discussed of the utter sway that conservative Islam has over how people in the country, both its citizens and its foreign residents and visitors, are expected to live. Over three decades ago these repressive moral regulations led Saudi Arabia to ban movie cinemas, forcing people to go to their neighboring nations to be able to watch motion picture entertainment. Now, following the wave of restrictions being relaxed, Saudi will soon see its theaters returning.
CNN has it that the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Culture and Information revealed in a public statement this Monday, December 11, that they will begin issuing licenses to operate movie theaters early in 2018, over 35 years after the blanket banning of the business in the country. According to the estimated timetable, the Ministry expects the first Saudi cinemas in such a long time to begin opening for business by March next year. The Saudi Culture and Information Minister, Awwad Alawwad, noted that this event is a “watershed moment” in Saudi Arabia’s ongoing development of its “cultural economy.”
The Saudi cinema resurgence is just the latest facet of the Middle Eastern country’s economic diversification program Vision 2030, which endeavors to move Saudi Arabia gradually from its over reliance on its oil fields. The program, envisioned by Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad Salman, is prioritizing the generation of new jobs outside of the petroleum industry, an objective that can be partly filled by the reopening of the local theater businesses for residents and foreigners to patronize for watching the latest films. It’s been established that entertainment-starved Saudis travel to nearby Dubai if they wanted to go to the cinema.
It’s this sort of “extremist Islam” conservatism that Prince Salman is looking to do away with by means of the initiatives being rolled out by Vision 2030. In the spirit of his more moderate approach, Saudi women have already been given the right to drive automobiles themselves, and starting next year they will be allowed to enter sporting venues. Saudi Arabia has also started offering to be venues for major music concerts, and some baby steps at mixing men and women on certain occasions have been carried out on trial basis.
While movies to be shown in Saudi cinemas will still be subject to strict censors removing nudity and sexual scenes, the Ministry of Culture and Information is confident that coming the 2030 target date, the return of the movie theater business would see Saudi Arabia having around 300 active cinemas and a possible total of around 2000 movie screens.
Photo courtesy of nytimes.com