Saudi Arabia reverses ban on women driving

Published:  30 Sep at 9 AM
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In a dramatic about-turn, Saudi Arabia is to allow women to drive cars, with the first licenses due to be issued next June.

Saudi is the only country in the world which bans women from driving, with the law based on the Kingdom’s austere version of Islam. In the past, the ban has attracted interest from human rights activists as well as fierce criticism from both Saudi and expat women. The move seems to be part of the Crown Prince’s 10-year plan to upgrade and modernise the country and its societal norms, and is being enthusiastically received by women across the country.

The removal of the ban is likely to attract pushbacks from Saudi’s powerful religious establishment as well as from traditionalist Saudi citizens, in spite of recent government crackdowns on criticisms from conservatives. Earlier this month a number of prominent clerics, businessmen and academics were detained, demonstrating the government’s commitment to the Prince’s plan. Overseas observers are praising the decision, with the United Nations Secretary General tweeting the move was an ‘important step in the right direction.

The White House issued a statement in approval of the move as well as pledging support for Saudi’s work in strengthening its society via reforms and the implementation of the Crown Prince’s Saudi Vision 2030. Middle East specialists at USA universities warned of a possible backlash, adding the arrests could have been precautions ahead of the announcement. Several of the specialists are noting rumours that the Saudi ruler might be looking to abdicate in favour of the Prince.

Last week, the driving ban wasn’t the only concession to women’s role in Saudi Arabian society, as rules were relaxed to allow females to attend the anniversary celebrations of the country’s founding. Both sexes danced together during a Riyadh street party, resulting in social media calls for the religious police to step in and restore moral order. Whilst being interviewed last year, Crown Prince Mohammed spoke in favour of women’s wider freedoms, saying he believes many of their rights within Islam haven’t yet being obtained. He added that, hopefully, positive changes could be achieved in the future.

The lifting of the ban has been warmly received by expat women, especially those with school-aged children, but transportation and ride-sharing firms are not best thrilled. It’s expected that women will opt for smaller cars for everyday journeys, perhaps improving road traffic conditions but taking work away from thousands of drivers employed by expat families. Government agencies have been instructed to provide driver-education programmes to literally millions of new drivers.

Related Tags: Saudi Arabia, expats in Saudi, womens driving ban, driving ban ends, expat women drivers, religious police, United Nations, religious establishment, protests, women’s wider freedoms, Saudi Vision 2030, Crown Prince Mohammed,

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