People are seen inside the first Saudi Arabia cinema in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia January 13, 2018. Picture taken January 13, 2018. REUTERS/Reem Baeshen
CAIRO – 6 April 2018: In another revolutionary step in the religiously-conservative community of Saudi Arabia, the first cinema is expected to be opened by April 18 with a screening of Marvel’s “Black Panther”; there will be no restrictions on gender segregation.
Ending a 35-year-old ban on movie theaters, Saudi Minister for Culture and Information Awwad bin Saleh Al Awwad has issued the first law regulating cinemas in the kingdom in March. This law came per a decision approved by the kingdom in December 2017 regarding reopening cinemas since they were closed in the mid-1970s.
This is, however, not the first shocking announcement regarding KSA policies recently, especially regarding entertainment and women. Last February, Chairman of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority Ahmed Al-Khatib announced the establishment of Saudi Arabia’s first ever opera house.
“The Saudi era of cultural openness has started and we will continue until we reach the highest standards in the world,” declared Khatib. He did not state if women will be allowed to attend the new opera shows or not. He added that the band Maroon 5 and acrobatics show Cirque du Soleil are some of the 5,000 arts acts planned for 2018 alone.
Khatib declared this decision while revealing the authority’s entertainment calendar in the Saudi capital Riyadh. He recounted that Saudi Arabia allocated $64 billion to be fully dedicated to the entrainment sector for the next 10 years. This decision means that “The Marriage of Figaro” or the “Barber of Seville” could soon be soaring through the rafters of the new Riyadh opera house. Such an announcement comes as a part of Saudi Arabia’s recent series of cultural openness decisions issued by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman.
Bin Salman has made plenty of steps to transfer the kingdom, which was famous for its ultra-conservative culture, to a new culturally and socially open country. He has already eased the rules pertaining to separation of the sexes.
The Saudi Kingdom gave women the right to start their own businesses without the approval of a male relative. Rules have also been relaxed about women walking in public without a male guardian. In the beginning of February, the Shura Council, the advisory body to the monarchy, demanded the country’s sports authority establish a Saudi agency to tailor women’s sports outfits.
Last December, the Saudi government started to issue licenses for the establishment of cinema halls for the first time in three decades. Despite this, lifting the ban has been opposed by powerful religious officials, who say that films can be immoral or “open doors to evil.” This decision strongly reflects Saudi Arabia’s desire to kick off its cinematic activities.
Bin Salman’s previous decisions were mainly dedicated to easing restrictions on women. Of his most prominent reforms is the lifting of the ban on women driving. Uber in Saudi Arabia is now looking to recruit female drivers. Bin Salman also gave Saudi women permission to attend the country’s National Day celebrations in Riyadh last September.