RIYADH: The lights go out, the projector whirls and entertainment-starved Saudis sink into plush seats to soak up an experience they have been denied for decades a trip to the cinema.
The rare movie night this week in Riyadh was a precursor to an expected formal lifting of the kingdom's ban on cinemas, long vilified as vulgar and sinful by religious scholars.
Following a decree allowing women to drive, authorities have hinted cinemas would soon be permitted as part of ambitious reforms for a post-oil era that could shake up the austere kingdom's cultural scene.
Once the ban ends, medical student Sultan expects cinemas with all the trappings of the modern movie experience, including vending machines churning out popcorn and cotton candy. "I expect the movie theatres will be crowded all the time," the 19-year-old audience member said.
Saudis, who see cinemas as a threat to cultural and religious identity, were instrumental in shutting them down in the 1980s. the kingdom's highest-ranking cleric warned in January of the depravity' of cinemas, saying they would corrupt morals.
"Wadjda", by Saudi female director Haifaa al Mansour, made history in 2013 after it became the kingdom's first Academy Award entry. The film depicts the dream of a 10-year-old girl to get a bicycle just like the boys in her neighbourhood.
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