Saudi Arabia says a ban on cinemas will be lifted early next year.
The conservative kingdom said the first cinemas were likely to open early next year.
“As the industry regulator, the General Commission for Audiovisual Media has started the process for licensing cinemas in the Kingdom,” Minister of Culture and Information Awwad bin Saleh Alawwad said in a statement.
“We expect the first cinemas to open in March 2018.”
The ban was made in the 1980s in response to Islamist extremism and as recently as January the possibility of lifting it was was still being dismissed by leading clerics.
“Motion pictures may broadcast shameless, immoral, atheistic or rotten films,” said the grand mufti, Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh on TV, according to the Guardan.
“There is nothing good in song parties, for entertainment day and night, and opening of movie houses at all times is an invitation to mixing of sexes.”
The rules on film screenings have been relaxed in recent weeks with some screenings taking place as a precursor to the official lifting of the ban, according to Gulf News.
Religious hardliners see cinemas as a threat to cultural identity.
But in the age of YouTube it is increasingly difficult to maintain the ban, artists have argued, as directors use the internet to get around the problem.
The decision is part of the government’s Vision 2030, a series of cultural and economic reforms intended to bring the kingdom into a more modern era.
Vision 2030, launched in 2016 by the deputy crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, is also seeking to cut unemployment by increasing private sector investment by 25%.
Around a dozen Saudi films have been made in the past decade.
In 2013 Saudi received it’s first ever Academy Award nomination with Wadjda, by Saudi female director Haifaa Al Mansour.
Saudi is hoping for further Oscar recognition this year with its first ever romantic comedy Barakah Meets Barakah, which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival.
What type of films will be eligible for screening is as yet unclear, though it is unlikely they will be allowed to watch The Last Jedi.
Among the film already screened include director Ali Kalthami’s Wasati, the tale of a real-life 1990s event in which when a group of ultraconservatives disrupted a play at a Saudi university.
The film had one screening, significantly, at the same theatre where the play was shut down.