Middle East experts believe that King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s recent decision to finally allow women to drive will have a massive positive effect on the culture and economy of the oil-rich nation of 33 million.
“For Saudi women, lifting the ban symbolizes victory, said Ola Salem, head of communications at the Arabia Foundation, an independent nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. “It’s not only that they’ll be able to drive, it’s also about freedom, equality and a responsive government to their rights. Many were left in tears after the announcement.
“Saudi Arabia faces a number of domestic challenges due to the existence of opposing views and creeping westernization in the country,” Ms. Salem continued. “The decree goes beyond allowing women to drive. The decree demonstrated the government’s willingness to stick its neck out for women, despite expected backlash. Those who downplay the ban lift fail to realize this dynamic. The Saudi government today wants to give women rights that are expected of any developed nation, and they’re working on it in a way their citizens can keep up with.”
Observers credited the move to the King’s 32-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman, who has been seeking to modernize the nation. The kingdom will begin issuing driving licenses to women in June.
At 830,000 square miles, Saudi Arabia is more than three times the size of Texas, and extremely dependent on cars. It had been the last nation on Earth to officially allow women drivers.
“This is a turning point,” said psychotherapist and photographer Madiha al-Ajroush, a prominent Saudi women’s rights activist who had taken part in driving protests as far back as 1990. “The freedom to have mobility in driving a car has many meanings, the most important is having access to the public arena which is the street, that only belonged to men. This gives women empowerment which will open many doors for her physical presence in a very segregated society.
“The culture will…