Saudi religious police says some movies possibly OK

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The chief of Saudi Arabia s powerful religious police said some movies may be acceptable in the kingdom, despite a three-decade ban on cinemas, local press reported on Sunday.

Sheikh Ibrahim Al-Gaith, head of the feared Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, made the concession after last week s breakthrough public showings in Jeddah of the comedy feature Manahi.

A movie could possibly be acceptable if it serves good and is suitable under Islam, Sheikh Gaith said.

Gaith pulled back from comments he made two days earlier branding movies an absolute evil in the wake of screenings in the Red Sea port city.

I did not say that we reject all cinema, but I said that we were not consulted during the organization of these movie showings, he explained.

For more than a week from December 9, the Rotana entertainment group, controlled by Saudi tycoon Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, showed Manahi to rapturous audiences in Jeddah and nearby Taif.

The screenings, approved by the provincial governor, Prince Khalid Al-Faisal, sparked hopes that Saudi Arabia would soon allow public cinemas.

Before the first projection of the film, local religious police inspected the facility, a 1,200 seat conference hall, to make sure men and women would remain separated, adhering to the country s strict laws on separation of unrelated members of the opposite sexes.

For the three showings daily, women sat in the balcony of the hall while men and boys were on the ground floor.

There are no cinemas in Saudi Arabia, but some coffee shops surreptitiously put on movies for customers and many Saudis enjoy films at home on DVD and satellite television.

To experience a cinema, they have to travel to nearby Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates or other countries. -AFP

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