Saudi women are now driving as longstanding ban ends

Final hours of Saudi Arabia ban on female drivers

A Saudi woman celebrates with her friends as she drives her auto in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, June 24, 2018. Many haven't had a chance to take the gender-segregated driving courses that were first offered to women only three months ago.

Ever since the announcement of the ban reversal, Saudi Arabia had changes when it comes to its automotive market.

The Kingdom earlier this month began issuing driving licenses to women, with some swapping their foreign license for Saudi ones after undergoing a practical test.

"I am not a provoker, not a vandaliser, not a terrorist, a criminal or a traitor", Abdelaziz said in a letter before her arrest, which was cited by HRW.

"To all men I say, be gentle towards women" drivers, popular Saudi singer Mohammed Abdu said in an online video.

The decision to lift the ban in the tightly-controlled Muslim kingdom - where once-forbidden cinemas and concerts have also returned - is expected to boost the economy, with industries from vehicle sales to insurance to reap returns. It also places women at the center of a tug-of-war between those agitating for more openings and a religious majority that remains wary of changes that could be influenced by the West.

Auto companies have seized the moment with theatrical ads marking the end of the ban, and private parking garages designated "ladies" areas with pink signage.

"Independence Day" read the front page headline in the kingdom's leading English-language newspaper, Arab News. Some reactions have been more derisive or expressed concern about social impacts.

For decades, hardliners cited austere Islamic interpretations to justify the driving ban, with some asserting that women lack the intelligence to drive and that lifting the prohibition would promote promiscuity. "Decisions like this depend on personal freedom".

"They're very supportive. You can see from the streets everyone is so happy".

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Dozens of women followed suit over the next few years.

In September 2017, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, issued a decree declaring an end to the decades-long ban from June 2018. "For the last 30 years".

Human rights groups identified numerous detainees as women who had been campaigning for the right to drive, and to end the conservative Islamic country's male guardianship system. Most were freed after reaching settlements with the government.

Saudi prince Alwaleed bin Talal has shared a video of his daughter driving as women celebrate the lifting of a ban allowing them to drive for the first time.

Some people "blamed me, claiming that what I did was delaying the official decision to lift the ban on women in Saudi Arabia, especially as my attempt was seen as a direct challenge to the government, ignoring the fact that their silence for 22 years also had no positive result", she told the Financial Times.

Activists have already begun campaigning to end the guardianship system, which has been chipped away at slowly over the years.

It comes after Prince Mohammed oversaw the arrests of dozens of writers, moderate clerics and others a year ago for apparently not emphatically supporting his policies, including the Saudi-led war in Yemen and a standoff with Qatar.

But veteran Saudi activist Hala Aldosari says women remain second-class citizens and criticised the crown prince's "piecemeal approach" as serving the interests of the elite at the expense of women from more restrictive families.

Al-Ajaji had a USA driver's license before obtaining a Saudi one and appeared comfortable at the wheel as she pulled up and parked.

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