Saudi Arabia lifted a 35-year-old ban on cinemas on Monday, prompting celebrations from film fans, directors and movie chains eyeing the last untapped mass market in the Middle East.

The first theaters could start showing films as early as March, the government said, part of a liberalizing reform drive that has already opened the door to concerts, comedy shows, and women drivers over the past year.

Cinemas were banned in the early 1980s under pressure from Islamists as Saudi society turned towards a particularly conservative form of the religion that discouraged public entertainment and public mixing between men and women.

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