Several movie theaters in the predominantly-Arab Ahwaz city in Iran have been shut down as audiences preferred staying at home and watching Ramadan TV serials and programs on satellite channels.
The expansive prevalence of satellite channels in the southwestern province of Khuzestan, commonly known as Arabstan, has led to a significant drop in the number of movie goers and 28 movie theatres were closed the province's capital Ahwaz, said Mojtaba Kuchik Zad, the general manager of the Khuzestan Association of Movie Shows.
"Several movie theaters were turned into stores," he said in a press statement. "In a province whose population is more than five million, we only have eight movie theatres now."
Kuchik Zad added that before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, there were more than 38 movie theatres in Ahwaz and other cities throughout the province.
Ahwazis desert movie theatres and prefer to watch films and serials on channels from the Gulf region because it is in their language which is not the case with movies shown in theatres, said Mohamed Haidari from Ahwaz.
"They also escape from their deplorable economic conditions when they watch TV," he told Al Arabiya.
Saeid al-Tamimi argued that Arab audiences were fed up with the didactic movies that only aim at promoting the values of the revolution and the policies of the regime.
"They prefer to watch Syrian and Gulf TV serials especially on MBC which has become a member of every Arab family in Iran," he told Al Arabiya.
Head of Karon, the Arab Ahwazi culture website, Abu Nizar Hamdi said that Arab Iranians no longer go to movie theatres due to the marginalization of Arab culture in Iran based on instructions from the regime.
"Movie theatres in Arabstan are not allowed to show Arabic-speaking movies," he told Al Arabiya. "This is the same policy that bans Arab Iranians from getting an education in their own language."
The government, Hamdi added, also makes it hard for Arab citizens to follow the news on Iranian channels because of the language.
"They go for Arab channels like Al Arabiya which is the most watched in the province especially since its coverage of the political unrest that have recently swept Iran."
First movie theatre
The establishment of movie theatres in Khuzestan is related to the discovery of oil in the province in the first quarter if the twentieth century. A British company was in charge of excavation and found in Khuzestan the first oil well.
The British established the first movie theatre in the entire Gulf region in Abadan, a city in the southwest of the province, to entertain the British laborers who worked in the excavation at the time.
The 100-seat movie theatre, which later came to be called the Indian cinema, was specialized in English-speaking films and it attracted Arab Iranians in the province as well as tourists from Iraq and the Gulf.
After the success of the first movie theatre, several others were established in other Arabstan cities like Ahwaz, Masjed Soleiman, and Susangard (originally called al-Khafajiyya) till the number reached 38.
(Translated from the Arabic by Sonia Farid)