By on September 27, 2017

saudi driving

Saudi Arabia doesn’t have what one might call a “progressive mindset” toward women. The ultra-conservative country is, however, attempting to improve its global image by finally giving them the right to drive. Announced in a royal decree over state television and in a simultaneous media event in Washington, Saudi Arabia says it will let drivers of the female persuasion use roadways in June of 2018.

Rights groups and Saudi activists have long campaigned for the overturn of the country’s driving ban; some women have even been arrested and jailed for defying the prohibition and taking the wheel. In 2014, one woman was detained for 73 days after two women crossed the border from the United Arab Emirates.

However, the fact that women can soon drive in Saudi Arabia doesn’t mean they will. Concerns remain that religious leaders and husbands will still attempt to forbid women from getting behind the wheel of an automobile.

It’s sort of like how the minister for the town in Footlose wouldn’t let kids dance or listen to rock music because he thought it would bolster immoral behaviors and bring about the end of civilization. Then Kevin Bacon shows up to throw a party and the town suddenly stops being awful. For our purposes, replace the small, fictional town of Bomont with all of Saudi Arabia, teenagers with women, rock-and-roll with everything, and Kevin Bacon with cars.

Still, the push to let women drive has considerable governmental and religious backing. Initial reports from The New York Times claim there is little public outcry against the proposal.

As a personal project of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the retraction of the ban was signed by King Salman. The degree says a “majority of senior [religious] scholars” deem the change legitimate under Islamic law and dictates that government ministries make the necessary legal adjustments by June 24th.

That’s still 10 months away, but the country says it needs sufficient time educate women on how to drive and men on how to interact with women on the road. While latter concerns are slightly bewildering, since women would hopefully have the same rules behind the wheel, the issue is a longstanding reason as to why women weren’t allowed to drive in the first place. Many have expressed concerns that female drivers would lead to widespread adulterous behavior and disintegration of traditional values.

Whether or not that actually happens, Saudi women still need reliable transportation. They’ve gradually entered the workforce in recent years and require more ways to get around. In fact, the country is seeing an influx of foreign-born drivers offering ride hailing services. Even Uber has gotten in on the action.

According to The Verge, the company raised $3.5 billion from the country’s main investment fund in 2016. As part of that deal, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund managing director Yasir Al Rumayyan took a place on Uber’s board — as did Princess Reema Bint Bandar Al Saud.

Uber executives have expressed support for allowing women to drive, but won’t say whether they plan to hire women drivers. “We’ve always said that women should be allowed to drive,” an Uber spokesperson said on Tuesday. “In the absence of that, we’re proud to have been able to provide extraordinary mobility that didn’t exist before. We look forward to continuing to support Saudi Arabia’s economic and social reforms.”

What an incredibly measured statement.

Still, whether every person in the country is ready to support the law or not, it’s past time Saudi Arabia did something to improve its image on the global stage. The nation’s restrictive domestic policies have received years of negative attention and allowing women to drive is a step in the right direction.

There’s also logistical reasons for the change. In addition to making women more mobile, additional cars on the road could help the country’s finances. With oil prices stuck near the bottom of the barrel, the Saudi economy could use some light prodding. But the government is framing the decision as something entirely social.

“There is no wrong time to do the right thing,” ambassador Prince Khaled bin Salman told the U.S. press this week. With women entering the workforce, “they need to drive themselves to work.” He then explained the 10-month delay was necessary to ensure the legal and logistical environment is prepared for the change. “We have to make sure our streets are ready,” he said.

A ministerial body will be set up to give advice on how to best implement the new law within 30 days.

[Image: Lujain al-Hathloul/Youtube]

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33 Comments on “Women Allowed to Drive in Saudi Arabia by Next Summer...”


  • avatar

    I wonder if insurance rates for this new class of drivers will be sky-high.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      A kind of Saudi Arabian poll tax, if you will.

      Wouldn’t surprise me.

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      Is there now a market for 50 year old jokes about women drivers, translated into Arabic?

    • 0 avatar
      Heino

      I saw a few Saudi women drive in France and in the UK. How do I know? The RR’s and Bentleys still had Saudi tags. I’m sure they can’t leave the country, in case they try to drive to Bahrain and have a sip (bottle) of Champagne. Maybe Volvo will conduct the equivalency of moose avoidance test with the peripheral visibility issues of wearing a burqua/niqab while driving.

  • avatar

    Saudi Arabia is schizophrenic. On one hand you have people that understand the modern world – the Saudi crown prince was just reported to have visited Israel and the Saudi and Israeli governments have extensive sub-rosa contacts. On the other hand, much of the religious and financial support of worldwide jihad comes from Wahabbi Saudis.

    Jews used to joke that Moses led the Hebrews to the only place in the Middle East without oil (a situation that has apparently changed, based on recent offshore finds), but a lack of natural resources has forced the Israelis to develop a diversified economy that is a serious player in the world economy. The Saudis had natural resources but they used them to subsidize the extended royal ramily. More recently they’ve tried to diversify their economy but how hard are you going to work if you don’t have to work hard? The Saudis still import a lot of their general labor.

    I”ve long thought that a trade alliance between the Arab petrostates and Israel could be a factor globally beyond just energy.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      If the Arabs can look beyond their longstanding, festering hatred of Israel…

      (Yeah, not gonna happen…)

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        Actually, these days, the Sunni Arabs are kinda cozying up to Israel as they both hate Iran.

        As for this long-standing ban on women drivers – has more to do with a bunch of old, conservative men wanting to keep women “in their place” than having anything to do with Islam.

        • 0 avatar
          28-Cars-Later

          I’d say this is partially true but its more to due with royal succession, and having muscle available in the event of coup.

          timesofisrael.com/iranian-regime-linked-media-claims-israeli-f16s-are-in-saudi-arabia/

        • 0 avatar
          markf

          “As for this long-standing ban on women drivers – has more to do with a bunch of old, conservative men wanting to keep women “in their place” than having anything to do with Islam”

          You have deep, deep misunderstanding of islam

          • 0 avatar
            bd2

            How Islam regards women is not much different from Judaism or Christianity – which makes sense, as all 3 religions are related (being Abrahamic religions).

            The difference being that the West has become a lot more secular (even the Christian Right is pretty much secular), whereas the Middle East and the surrounding regions have become more conservative and religious.

            There was a time when the Middle East was the center of learning (mathematics, astronomy, etc.) and being open to new ideas/cultures whereas Europe was undergoing the Dark Ages.

            Even more recently, cities like Beirut and Kabul were regarded as the “Paris of the Middle East” and the “Paris Central Asia.”

            Other Muslim countries do not have a ban on women driving.

            That has nothing to do with Islam.

            Muhammad’s first wife was twice married before and a wealthy merchant in her own right.

            Yeah, women (and children) were treated like crap (chattel, actually) in all 3 religions.

            For instance, in the Old Testament, a rapist could avoid further punishment if he paid the father of the rape victim 50 shekels of silver and promised to MARRY the victim.

            The daughter’s value to the father was her virginity. Once that was gone, she was worthless and would be a financial burden – as no other man would have her (hence, the forced marriage to the rapist).

            How Ultra-Orthodox Jews treat women is not that different from Ultra-Orthodoz Muslims.

            The closest thing we see in Christianity are those ultra-conservative Christians who expect the women to stay at home and do housework and bear child after child after child after child.

    • 0 avatar
      Heino

      Ronnie, I grew up Christian in the ME. My father taught me that Inshallah means FU. We managed to get to Israel (via Cyprus) using back channels. Finally met the enemy as we were taught, they were very nice. Their mentality here is why the ME is always in conflict. The knuckle dragging in finally hurting a little bit.

  • avatar
    Detroit-Iron

    I am pretty sure women still need to be escorted by a male relative whenever they go out, so how would this work?

    • 0 avatar
      threeer

      No, the decree also includes not needing the male escort. While I applaud the progress for women’s rights, having lived in Riyadh for two years recently, I can’t for the life of me imagine that many more drivers on already chaotically dangerous roads. I’ve NEVER experienced as many near-death events driving as I did there. They take the phrase “God Willing” to the extreme.

      • 0 avatar
        WheelMcCoy

        “No, the decree also includes not needing the male escort.”

        That’s great. The men will soon learn that no need to be an escort means more free time to waste reading TTAC. :)

      • 0 avatar

        Some have attributed some of the stagnation in the Arab world to the “inshallah”, if Allah wills it, mentality.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          Ronnie,
          What a trashy comment.

          So Jews are better? There are sh!t Jews as well. Orthodox ones.

          Get real sunshine.

          I think what needs to occur is we judge each other as individuals.

          I’m not religous, so I don’t judge those there colour or religion.

          Go back with your fear and hide behind the NRA.

          • 0 avatar
            markf

            “So Jews are better? There are sh!t Jews as well. Orthodox ones”

            The Anti-Semitism of the Left is never far from the surface

          • 0 avatar
            star_gazer

            Al:

            I didn’t read Ronnie’s comments as trashy. My interpretation was more like a opportunity cost. If you take a certain position, you give up something. So, if you are Jewish, you give up bacon. Similarly, if your supreme being wills something, why fight it?

            A little more than a century ago, we Americans were in the same situation with suffrage. The opportunity cost — not letting a woman vote — meant that we disregarded half of the population’s brain power due to their genitalia. We still have difficulties with bias…more lost opportunities. IMHO, that’s what Ronnie was stating.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al From 'Murica

            Strong is the $#!+headery in this post.

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al From 'Murica

            Watch it All…your Jewaphobia is showing

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al From 'Murica

            Al, not all

          • 0 avatar
            Big Al From 'Murica

            Figured you would come back you racist piece of $#!+

      • 0 avatar
        volvoguyincanada

        Tell us about the near death experience!! Drive-by stonings?

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Man, and here I was thinking no women drivers, a ban on alcohol, and I would assume a ban on at least sexting while driving; would render the place the least traffic accident prone one on offer anywhere…..

    • 0 avatar
      ClutchCarGo

      However, I believe that a woman would still need permission from the pertinent male relative in order to be allowed to drive.

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      And that wasn’t even how it went in reality.

      Often, when women went out, they didn’t have a male escort aside from their driver (who was usually a non-relative male from a SE Asian country).

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Love to see some realistic before and after surveys.

  • avatar
    ChesterChi

    It’s nice to see they appointed Salman Rushdie as their king, after the Iranians were so mean to him.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    Here in the UAE females require permission to obtain a drivers licence.

    My personal belief is the people (majority) want change, but the challenge lies in the power of the religous leaders.

    Most who are negatively critical of the issues in the Middle East seem to forget they have only recently been truly challenged with alternative cultures. This can confront some.

    I believe what’s occurring in the Middle East is a transition from the Old Ways to the new ways.

    It wasn’t that long ago we in the west thought that females belong in the kitchen.

    I hope the moderates/progressives win in the Middle East.

  • avatar
    markf

    “Most who are negatively critical of the issues in the Middle East seem to forget they have only recently been truly challenged with alternative cultures. This can confront some.

    I believe what’s occurring in the Middle East is a transition from the Old Ways to the new ways.”

    You really don’t understand a thing about islam. islam has had its reformation, its just not what Westerners wanted. Look at a pic of Cairo Woman’s college from the 50’no one was covered. Look today, they are all covered.

    “It wasn’t that long ago we in the west thought that females belong in the kitchen.”

    Did we have laws in place enforcing that? Did we stone women? Please stop with the false equivalencies….

  • avatar
    Shortest Circuit

    To any Saudi chicks reading: if someone passes you on the right, you are hogging a lane, move over!
    Thank you, that’s all I had to say.

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    Battle of the Asian Women, Saudi Women, and Blue Hairs as to who can now cause more collateral damage in vehicular mayhem.

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