Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive


Women in Saudi Arabia will soon have the right to drive, according to a royal decree issued by the country’s King Salman.

The kingdom has long been the only state in the world where women are prohibited from driving, and the ban has been the subject of extensive protests in and outside the country.

In the royal decree issued on Tuesday, King Salman stated women would have the right to obtain driving licences.

A ministerial body will be formed to advise on the change within the next 30 days, and will go on to implement the new rules by June 2018, according to the decree.

The news was met with joy in Saudi Arabia, with men and women dancing in the streets in celebration.

The Saudi ambassador to the US said the guardianship system, under which women must have a male guardian who can make critical decisions on her behalf, should also be brought to an end.

“It’s not just a social change, it’s part of economic reform,” ambassador Prince Khaled bin Salman said of the driving law.

He said women will not need permission from a legal guardian to drive, and that licences issued from elsewhere in the Gulf Cooperation Council would apply in Saudi Arabia.

In the decree, King Salman spoke of the “negative consequences of not allowing women to drive” and “the positive aspects of allowing it”.

He added that the “majority” of senior scholars viewed allowing women to drive as legitimate.

Saudi women have been fighting for the right to drive for decades in a campaign that saw activists defying the law to take the wheel, posting videos on the internet and sometimes being arrested and jailed for doing so.

On Twitter many women speculated about what kind of car they might buy or said they would delete apps like Uber, which many women have come to rely on.

“I am very excited and shocked at the same time,” said Haya al-Rikayan, a 30-year-old bank employee.

“I expected this to happen 10 or 20 years later.”

Aziza Youssef, a prominent Saudi women’s rights activist, said the decision was a “great first step” and that she was “really excited” about the announcement, but added she would continue to push for an end to male guardianship.

“This could be described as a turning point in the position of women in Saudi Arabia, which is a society considered by many as a closed society and a traditionalist one,” said Sky News Arabia correspondent Abderrahim El-Farsi.

It comes as conservative voices in Saudi Arabia are seeing their influence potentially wane, as the country seeks to improve an international image defined by repressive policies at home and military intervention in Yemen that has left thousands dead.

“This is just a part of some sweeping changes taking place since the rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” El-Farsi said, referring to a new appointment considered to have been a modernising influence in recent months.