Saudi Arabia on Monday said it will lift the ban on movie theatres early next year, Reuters reported. Theatres have been illegal in the kingdom since the early 1980s.

“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 was quoted as saying. “We expect the first cinemas to open in March 2018.”

Alawwad said this was a part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s social and economic reforms programme, aimed “to encourage an open and rich domestic culture for Saudis”, according to Financial Times.

“This marks a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy,” the statement added. “Opening cinemas will act as a catalyst for economic growth and diversification.”

From early 2018, the government expects more than 300 theatres with around 2,000 screens to be opened. This is likely to contribute $24 billion (more than Rs 15,000 crore) to the economy of Saudi Arabia and create 30,000 jobs, the Reuters report said.

Under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has introduced reform plans, including ones to give women more freedom in public. In October, the country said it will allow women into three sports stadiums from next year. In September, the kingdom said it will lift the ban on women driving in the country from June 2018.

In October, the crown prince had vowed to focus on eradicating extremism within his kingdom and a return to “moderate Islam”. He said Saudi Arabia was “not like this in the past”. “We will eradicate the remnants of extremism very soon,” he had said. “We represent the moderate teachings and principles of Islam.”