Saudi Arabia Announces It Will Lift Ban And Allow Women To Drive

Saudi Arabia Announces It Will Lift Ban And Allow Women To Drive

The kingdom will issue driving licences to women from next June, in the most striking reform yet credited to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, despite the risk of a backlash from hardliners.

The Saudi ministers are now preparing the required reports and in less than 30 days the royal order should be implemented, entering into force by June 2018, writes the Saudi press.

The decision reflects not only a shift in thinking about human rights but a desire to develop modern skills among half its population, women, who are still largely kept out of the new, non-oil industries.

A majority of Saudi Arabia's Council of Senior Ulema religious scholars on Wednesday expressed support for a royal decree allowing women to drive.

The arrival of women drivers could lift Saudi auto sales by 15-20 percent annually, leading forecaster LMC Automotive predicts, as the kingdom's "car density" of 220 vehicles per 1,000 adults rises to about 300 in 2025, closing the gap with the neighboring United Arab Emirates.

Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi women's rights advocate who filmed herself driving in 2011 and posted the footage to YouTube to protest the law, celebrated the announcement on Tuesday. Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh, who has repeatedly opposed women working and driving and said letting them into politics may mean "opening the door to evil", has yet to comment.

Despite the breakthrough that won plaudits internationally and from inside Saudi Arabia, she refused to take any credit, saying: "No, no, it wasn't me, it was everyone doing everything". It was unclear whether women would require their guardian's permission to apply for driving licences. She went on to tweet 'today was a historic day for women in Saudi Arabia as a decree was announced to lift the ban on women drivers'.

Some hit back at sexist jokes that flooded Saudi Twitter in the wake of the driving ban being lifted, reminding people that Saudi Arabia has one of the world's highest vehicle accidents rates, while only men are driving. It was just five years ago this November that authorities began sending men text messages whenever the women they oversaw left the country.

Stur said Saudi Arabia is one of the biggest allies of the USA, but there has been a lot of controversy about the lack of civil rights and liberties for women in that part of the world as the US works to bring democracy and freedom to parts of the Middle East.

The decree also said a high-level ministerial committee was being formed to study other issues that needed to be addressed for the change to take place. The US-raised Saudi citizen worked with various ministries in Riyadh before returning to the States in 2017.

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