Saudi Arabia says it will allow cinemas to operate for the first time in decades

Saudi Arabia said Monday that it would allow cinemas to operate in the strictly conservative kingdom for the first time in decades, in the latest sign of a broader government push to relax some social restrictions.

In a statement, the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information said the process of licensing commercial movie theaters — banned since the early 1980s — was underway and the first theaters would open early next year.

The move is part of a social and economic reform program led by Saudi Arabia’s 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is increasingly at the helm of the kingdom’s planning even though his father, King Salman, remains the ultimate authority.