Analyst says it was a Public Relations Stunt for improving economy
Saudi Arabia entered into a landmark change towards modernization on Sunday when women across the country woke up with lifting the decades-old ban on their driving.
According to official Al-Arabiya newspaper, the “Saudi women were officially able to drive at the stroke of midnight on June 24 as a royal decree granting them the right to drivers’ licenses came into effect”.
Al Arabiya English has followed Saudi women on their first journeys behind the wheel. Most women expressed their satisfaction on lifting the ban. Maha Al-Ghanim, a make-up artist, said Saudi society had long awaited the lifting of the ban and said her first journey was to her workplace. She said that being able to depend on herself is “liberating.”
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Manal Zabalawi, one of the first Saudi women to publicly learn how to drive a few years ago, said: “We are ready to sit behind the wheel. I congratulate Saudi women and Saudi society on this huge,” she said, with her daughter Farah by her side.
A woman bank employee Fatima Al-Khateer said, “We need a car to do our daily activities. We are working women and we have a lot of social activities, and we need to go out, so we need a means of transport.”
However, Terhan based Press TV reports that several Saudi women rights advocates still remain imprisoned as the kingdom lifts its decades-old ban on women driving, with analysts viewing the move as Public Relations stunt.
The change in law was ordered by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz in last September as part of sweeping reforms pushed by his son Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
However, Pres TV says that lifting of ban comes amid an intensified crackdown on the activists who have campaigned for women’s right to drive. A number of women have been arrested for supporting women’s rights and posting videos showing them at the wheel.
Eman al-Nafian, a known Saudi blogger, who published articles entitled “Saudiwoman” in support of women’s rights, was detained in May this year. Commenting on the order or lifting the driving ban, she said, “The way in which the ban was lifted seemed too simple to be real.”
Another woman activist Nouf Abdulaziz was taken into custody earlier this month. She left a letter to be released in case of her arrest saying, “I am not a provoker, inciter nor a wrecker, nor a terrorist, nor a criminal or a traitor … I was never but only a good citizen that loved my country and wished the best for it.”
Hana al-Khamri, analyst wrote on the Al-Jazeera website on Sunday that Riyadh “has rather pragmatic reasons to allow women to drive. She stressed that “lifting of the ban on women driving is part of a plan to boost the country’s economy and legitimize dramatic changes with the House of Saud”, the ruling family.