Cinemas to be allowed operate in Saudi Arabia for first time in 35 years

The country's culture minister described the lifting of the decades-old ban as a "watershed moment"

Cinemas to be allowed operate in Saudi Arabia for first time in 35 years

File photo. Picture by: Mohssen Assanimoghaddam/DPA/PA Images

Saudi Arabia has announced it will allow cinemas to operate in the country - more than three decades after they were banned.

Cinemas will operate from early 2018, having been denied licences since the early 1980s.

Officials expect the first cinemas to open in March 2018, although licences will start being issued immediately.

In a statement, Saudi Culture & Information Minister Dr Awwad Alawwad said: "This marks a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy in the Kingdom.

"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."

It comes as part of wider social & cultural reforms in Saudi Arabia, which follows strict Islamic codes of behaviour.

It was announced in September that women will be allowed drive in the country from next year - a move which will end an internationally condemned rule in the ultraconservative country.

Last week, Lebanese singer Hiba Tawaji became the first female musician to perform in the country.

The lifting of the cinema ban is part of the Vision 2030 plan, which officials hope will see Saudi household spending on culture & entertainment rise from 2.9% to 6% by 2030.

Authorities hope there will be more than 300 cinemas and 2,000 screens in the country by 2030, serving a population of more than 32 million people.

Less than a year ago, Saudi Arabia's highest-ranking cleric had described cinemas as 'a depravity'.