The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia today issued driver’s licenses to 10 women in a historic first for the Middle Eastern country. Government officials there say that women will be officially allowed to drive as of June 24. Officials noted that about 2,000 more women could receive their driver’s licenses next week.
Permitting women to drive is a component of modernization reforms being implemented by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, Fox News reported, who is the heir apparent to the king. The 10 new drivers already held licenses in other countries and, as such, received the expedited go-ahead after taking a driving test and eye exam at an agency called the General Department of Traffic, which is located in the country’s capital of Riyadh.
In denying licensing previously, Saudi Arabia previously imposed the world’s only de facto ban on female drivers, the Associated Press reported.
AP adds that the restriction has been targeted by women’s rights activists in the Muslim country, some of whom who are still in jail and could be put on trial for charges related to allegedly undermining Saudi Arabia’s security.
‘Other women across the country have been preparing for the right to drive on June 24 by taking driving courses on female-only college campuses. Some are even training to become drivers for ride hailing companies like Uber. Saudi women had long complained of having to hire costly male drivers, use taxis or rely on male relatives to get to work and run errands.”
As a technical matter, Saudi Arabia apparently has never explicitly banned female drivers; it just never issued them licenses.
“Often, police would detain a female driver until a male relative could pick her up and sign a pledge on her behalf that she would not drive again.”
“To boost the economy and ease international criticism,…Mohammed bin Salman has been promoting changes, like the decision to allow women to drive, all while risking backlash from clerics and others who adhere to the ultraconservative Wahhabi interpretation of Islam,” AP added.
A video clip uploaded to Twitter purports to show one of the 10 Saudi women receiving her license today.
Other initiatives being pushed by Prince Mohammed include allowing women to attend sporting events, permitting movie theaters in Saudi Arabia, and enabling more women to work outside the home, the New York Times explained. In recent months, he also arrested various luminaries such as members of his own royal family and rich businessmen on charges of corruption, completely unrelated to the ban on female drivers.
The civil rights crackdown is still in effect, however.
“The recent arrests singled out a number of men and women who had been involved in challenging the driving ban, including some who drove around Riyadh, the capital, to publicly protest it in 1990,” the Times added about the detained civil rights activists in Saudi Arabia.