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Reviving cinemas would represent a paradigm shift in the kingdom, which is promoting entertainment as part of a sweeping reform plan for a post-oil era, despite opposition from conservatives who have long vilified movie theatres as vulgar and sinful."Commercial cinemas will be allowed to operate in the Kingdom as of early 2018, for the first time in more than 35 years," the culture and information ministry said in a statement."This marks a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy in the kingdom," the statement quoted Information Minister Awwad Alawwad as saying.Like most public spaces in the kingdom, cinema halls are expected to be segregated by gender or have a separate section for families.
The film depicts the dream of a 10-year-old girl to get a bicycle just like the boys in her conservative neighbourhood.Some women fleeing allegedly abusive families have languished in prison without charge, and others in the past have been imprisoned for defying Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving.The young woman drew attention over the weekend when the video appeared online showing her walking in a historic village north of the capital, Riyadh, wearing a miniskirt and crop top, and showing her hair.Religious hardliners forced the closure of cinemas in the 1980s, claiming they were a threat to Saudi religious identity.The kingdom's culture ministry said the move was another strand of its "Vision 2030" social and economic reform plan for the country that is being pushed through by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.Saudi Arabia on Monday lifted a decades-long ban on cinemas, part of a series of social reforms by the powerful crown prince that are shaking up the ultra-conservative kingdom.
The government said it would begin licensing cinemas immediately and the first movie theatres are expected to open next March, in a decision that could boost the kingdom's nascent film industry.
The viral video and the reaction to it in Saudi Arabia prompted police to bring the woman in for questioning for wearing "immodest clothes" in violation of the kingdom's conservative Islamic dress code.
Her release from detention without charge suggests that the subsequent international attention may have helped her case.
The decision not to press charges was a rare win for supporters of women's rights in Saudi Arabia, who criticised the public outcry against her.
It also comes as Saudi Arabia overhauls its prosecution system under a new, young heir to the throne who has taken steps to try and modernise the country and its public image.
The social transformation chimes with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's recent pledge to return Saudi Arabia to an "open, moderate Islam" and destroy extremist ideologies.