Saudi Arabia to lift ban on cinemas

In 2009, the movie was the first film to be publicly screened in Saudi Arabia for decades.

Saudi Arabia will allow cinemas to open from next year, for the first time in more than 35 years, it has been announced.

The first cinemas are expected to open in March 2018, after a resolution was passed paving the way for licences to be granted to commercial movie theatres.

The ultra-conservative country shut down its cinemas in the 1980s, after many clerics branded Western and other movies sinful.

The Saudi government said there will be 300 cinemas with around 2,000 screens built in the country by 2030.

It is the latest push in the Muslim kingdom's social reform programme as it also attempts improve its image around the world.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appears to be encouraging less conservativism. Credit: AP

Since King Salman's 32-year-old heir Mohammed bin Salman was elevated to crown prince, a ban on women driving has also been lifted.

Women's rights activists had been pushing for the ban to be lifted since the 1990s.

Saudi Arabia was the only country left in the world where women were not permitted to drive. Credit: AP

Women will also be allowed into sports stadiums from next year but will have to sit in the "family section" - an area separate from the male-only crowd.

In September, women were allowed for the first time into the Riyadh stadium for national day celebrations.

Women were allowed in the Riyadh stadium for the first time in September. Credit: AP