Cinemas to open in Saudi Arabia?

The Maal business website, citing confidential sources, said an investor is planning to establish movie theaters in the kingdom

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An investor has officially requested a license from the Saudi General Commission of Audiovisual Media to establish cinemas in the country, a local business website reported Tuesday.

The commission did not object to the idea in principle, and asked the investor to submit a study of the planned project, Maaal reported.

Cinemas are forbidden in Saudi Arabia.

If the commission thinks the investment is feasible, it could ask higher authorities to clear the way for movie theaters nationwide, sources reportedly said.

“The commission is communicating with the investor about this issue. It’s in itself a big step forward,” Mutlaq al-Buqami, editor-in-chief at Maaal, told Al Arabiya News.

While opening cinemas in Saudi Arabia is “inevitable,” challenges remain, he said, adding that those who oppose the idea have “the loudest voice.”

Saudi society has changed, and people already have access to a plethora of TV channels from all over the world, Buqami said.

“The demand isn’t just for entertainment, but also to create more economic opportunities,” he added.

“Saudis spend more than $1 billion watching movies in Bahrain and Dubai. This is a big number,” Buqami said, citing unofficial reports.

Malek Najr, a film producer nationally known for the “Masmeer” TV series, told Maal that establishing cinemas in Saudi Arabia would create thousands of job opportunities for youths, pump billions of riyals into the economy, and allow the country to export its culture.

Economists have long noted that Saudi Arabia’s citizens spend their money outside the kingdom watching movies in neighbouring countries, when those finances could be pumped into the domestic economy.

“People rejected TV, but now it’s an essential part of their entertainment,” Buqami said.

“Cinema is representative of civilization, culture,” he said, adding that movie theaters do not contradict the kingdom’s values, especially if films are regulated and supervised.

Despite the news that an investor has applied for a license to open a cinema, sources that Al Arabiya News contacted inside the Ministry of Information and the consultative Shura Council have said that they have heard no updates, “neither positive or negative, about this topic."

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