Saudi Arabia on Monday said that public cinemas would be allowed in the conservative kingdom and the first cinemas were likely to open by March 2018.

“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 on Monday, adding that the government would begin licensing venues immediately.

Reviving cinemas represents a paradigm shift for Saudi Arabia. The kingdom is promoting entertainment as part of sweeping changes known collectively as Vision 2030, which are being implemented despite opposition from conservatives.

“This marks a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy in the kingdom,” the information minister, Awwad Alawwad, said in the statement.

Hardliners, who see cinemas as a threat to cultural and religious identity, were instrumental in shutting them down in the 1980s.

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