“I will eradicate extremism.” – His strong message surprised everyone in October. And he has kept his promise.

Conservative Saudi Arabia’s liberal Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently announced that the Saudi government would soon reopen movie theatres. People across the ‘ultraconservative’ West Asian nation welcomed his announcement to reopen public cinemas for the first time in 35 years.

In a statement, the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information stated: “As the industry regulator, the General Commission for Audiovisual Media has started the process for licensing cinemas in the Kingdom. We expect the first cinemas to open in March 2018.”

Overwhelmed with the announcement, Culture and Information Minister Awwad Alawwad said: “This marks a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy in the Kingdom. Opening cinemas will act as a catalyst for economic growth and diversification; by developing the broader cultural sector, we will create new employment and training opportunities, as well as enriching the Kingdom’s entertainment options.”

Saudi Arabia has experienced the ‘change’ since 2015 when Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud became the king following the death of his half-brother, King Abdullah. He triggered a new era in national politics. In June, King Saud appointed his son Mohammed bin Salman as the crown prince replacing his nephew, Mohammed bin Nayef, as first in line to the throne. Then, both the king and the crown prince decided to reduce the power of ‘religious police’ or Mutaween. In the past, the religious leaders had the power to arrest anyone. However, the father-son duo abolished the power first. Later, they also organised music conference. Crown Prince Salman hinted that the government would take actions against those, who are spreading radical ideology on Twitter. He even focussed issues related to women’s rights.

The 32-year-old ‘young’ crown prince reminded that “Saudi Arabia was not like this before 1979”, saying: “We want to go back to where we were, the moderate Islam that’s open to all religions. We want to live a normal life…..coexist and contribute to the world. We will end extremism very soon. We will not spend the next 30 years of our lives dealing with destructive ideas. We will destroy them today.”

Salman knows that gender discrimination still exists in different parts of the country. He knows that women face various problems at workplaces and girls can’t go out of the house without male guardians. But, the crown prince is moving forward slowly and trying “to go back to where we were”. Riyadh has already announced that women will be allowed to drive from June 2018 (thus, ending the long-standing policy that has become a global symbol of the oppression of women in the kingdom). And now, the Saudi government sends another message: movies will return to the kingdom after 35 years.

The prince has kept his promise.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]