Saudi Arabia opens first movie theatre in more than 35 years



RIYADH, Amr Mostafa and Nehal El-Sherif (dpa)– Saudi Arabia on Wednesday opened its first commercial movie theatre, ending a ban of more than 35 years on cinemas in the conservative kingdom.
Saudi Minister of Culture and Information Awwad Alawwad gave the go-ahead for the new cinema at the King Abdullah Financial District (KAFD) in Riyadh.



The new movie theatre was to screen Hollywood’s "Black Panther”, as a test run ahead of launching a number of cinemas in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam.
The movie on display was checked by the Saudi General Commission for Audiovisual Media (GCAM) to make sure it was appropriate for people over 15 in line with newly set rules.
Wednesday's screening was limited to cinema specialists and those who are interested in the industry, before the theatre is opened to the public this week.
The new movie theatre will be operated by AMC under a deal signed with Riyadh earlier this month for the US-based firm to open 30 to 40 movie theatres in 15 cities across the kingdom within five years.
“The return of cinema to Saudi Arabia marks an important moment in the Kingdom’s modern day history and cultural life, as well as in the development of the Kingdom’s entertainment industry,” Alawwad was quoted by Saudi broadcaster Al Arabiya as saying.
"Cinema has always played an important role in bringing cultures together and Saudi Arabia is ready to play its part,” he added.
In December, Saudi authorities announced the reopening of cinemas in the country, a move that is part of the kingdom's Vision 2030 plan, launched by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in a bid to open the country up to investments and diversify the kingdom's oil-reliant economy.
Movie theatres were banned in the country in the early 1980s, after unrest in 1979 which saw more than 20 people killed in Shiite minority demonstrations against the Sunni rulers. After that, the ruling al-Saud family gave religious hard-line clerics greater space to influence public life, which led to a ban on cinemas, one of many restrictions on social life.
Now, the kingdom is set to have nearly 350 cinemas, with more than 2,500 screens, by 2030.
Mohammed is believed to have also championed lifting a long ban on women driving in the kingdom, a move that will go into effect in June.
Saudi Arabia is dominated by the puritanical Wahhabi school of Islam, but the kingdom has been introducing slow-paced change, allowing foreign investments and loosening some laws.
The 32-year-old crown prince has vowed that Saudi Arabia will return to "moderate Islam" as he works on reducing the influence of the country's hard-line religious establishment.
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Thursday, April 19th 2018
Amr Mostafa and Nehal El-Sherif (dpa)
           


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