Saudi ladies celebrate right to drive

Saudi ladies celebrate right to drive

Saudi ladies celebrate right to drive

A Saudi woman has been named to a senior government post for the first time, authorities said on Wednesday shortly after a ban on women drivers was lifted as the conservative kingdom takes steps to modernise its image.

Al-Sharif, 38, has long campaigned for women's rights in Saudi Arabia and this year published a memoir "Daring To Drive", which became a worldwide bestseller. Tuesday the Saudi Arabian government announced women can now legally drive. The decision highlights the damage done to the kingdom's worldwide image from the ban on women driving and Saudi's hopes for a public relations benefit from the reform.

Some said that it was inappropriate in Saudi culture for women to drive, or that male drivers would not know how to handle having women in cars next to them.

"I think our leadership understands our society is ready", Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz said.

The decision is also in line with the Saudi king's vision of Saudi Arabia 2030 or the National Transformation Program. The male guardianship system requires women to have a male relative's approval for decisions on education, employment, marriage, travel plans and even medical treatment.

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A muted response from Saudi's powerful clergy, which has long backed the ban, suggested power shared between the Al Saud dynasty and the Wahhabi religious establishment could be shifting decisively in favour of the royals.

A middle- to upper-class Saudi family typically has two vehicles, one driven by the man of the house and a second auto in which a full-time chauffeur transports his wife and children. The crown prince sees the future of the economy as knowledge-based, one that relies far less on oil and more on the traits of its people. Hush money also comes in the form of subsidized jobs, which in turn allow men to afford to restrict the movement of women: About 1.4 million foreigners are now employed as household drivers. "Other proposals suggested that there would be a curfew for women drivers".

Those arrests were not directly related to the driving ban, but apparently to an ongoing crisis with Gulf rival Qatar, said Jane Kinninmont from London-based Chatham House.

Some men expressed outrage at the about-face by prominent clerics, who in the past have sometimes justified the driving ban by saying women's brains are too small or that driving endangered their ovaries. "Evil has come to Arabs".

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