Monday, May 27, 2013

Al Waleed wants Saudi women to drive cars

New statement from Prince Al Waleed bin Talal in support of women driving. Reported here in Emirates 24/7, and the text of the story below. I would add that not only would 500,000 foreign drivers leave the country, the salaries paid to them would be reinvested in the country and would help diversify the economy and hopefully encourage women to start more small businesses.

Prince says 500,000 foreign drivers will lose jobs if women are allowed to drive

Saudi billionaire Prince Al Waleed scoffed at his Gulf Kingdom’s long-standing ban on driving cars by women in a fresh brief Twitter call supporting an ongoing campaign by women in the world’s oil superpower to drive cars.

Al Waleed, a nephew of King Abdullah with a $20-billion investment empire, said allowing Saudi women to drive in the conservative Moslem country means nearly 500,000 foreign private drivers, mostly Asians, would lose their jobs.

One of the world’s 30 richest persons, the Prince said he was surprised that the ban remains in force when a Saudi woman scaled Mount Everest last week and another became the country’s first female passenger aircraft pilot.

He was referring to Raha Mubarak who was the first Saudi woman to reach Everest and Hanadi Al Hindi, the first Saudi woman to become a commercial flight pilot last month.

“Hanadi piloted an aircraft and Raha reached Everest but the Saudi woman still cannot drive her own car,” he said.

Women drivers would cause crashes – Saudi Grand Mufti

  Monday, 27 May 2013 12:44 PM

Allowing Saudi Arabian women to drive would lead to more accidents on roads, according to the austere Gulf kingdom’s highest religious authority.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving, as well as imposing a number of other restrictions on areas including employment and travel.

“If women knew the evils and consequences of driving they would realise it is in their interest and society’s interest that they do not drive,” Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al-Alsheikh said, according to Saudi news site An7a, as reported by

“Women driving would lead to more accidents. When women are in danger, they don’t know how to act. How are they going to deal with accidents?”

In 2012, more than 600 women petitioned Saudi’s King Abdullah to allow women to drive in the country, a
year after a group of women’s-rights activists launched the Women2Drive campaign.

Prominent figures such as Princess Ameerah Al Taweel have also spoken in support of women lobbying to overturn the driving ban.

Women’s rights in the Gulf’s most populous country, which practises an austere version of Sharia Law, are a frequent topic of discussion in the world’s media.
Females in Saudi Arabia are prohibited from taking up employment or leaving the country without a male guardian’s permission.

In recent years though there have been indications that absolute monarch King Abdullah has pursued a reformist agenda in terms of women’s rights.

In 2011, it was announced that women would be permitted to vote and stand in municipal elections from 2015, while in January 2013 30 women were appointed to the country’s legislative Shoura Council.
Some female members of the Shoura Council have said they will lobby for the driving ban to be lifted, although there is not yet a timeframe for when the issue will be discussed.

It was also recently announced that women would be allowed to practice law in a professional environment for the first time.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Oman denies proposing ban on women wearing veil while driving across GCC

The following is from the Gulf News. A link to the story is here, and the text is below. It was recently reported that the idea of banning women from wearing a face veil (showing only the eyes) was being discussed for adoption throughout the GCC countries - the Arab Gulf countries including Oman and Saudi Arabia. It is already illegal to do so in Oman, as per the article below.

No plans to impose a ban on women wearing veil while driving, says official
  • By Sunil K. Vaidya, Bureau Chief Published: 15:44 May 26, 2013
Muscat: Oman has not proposed any such ban for the GCC recently, as reported in regional media, a top police official has said.The country has had a ban on driving with a face veil for some time.

In Oman, wearing a [face veil] while driving is already a traffic violation and it is working fine, so there’s no reason for us [Oman] to propose the same at the GCC meet,” Brigadier Mohammad Bin Awadh Al Rawas, Director General of Traffic with the Royal Oman Police (ROP), who attended the meeting of the traffic heads from the GCC member states in Jeddah last week, told Gulf News on Sunday.

Saudi media reported last week that Oman had proposed at the Jeddah meet banning women from driving while wearing the face veil that is worn by some Muslim women. The veil covers the entire face, leaving an opening for the eyes. Al Rawas expressed surprise at the reports, saying the ban was not new in Oman.

Meanwhile, Brigadier Al Rawas said that traffic accident-related fatalities were gradually coming down in the country following a slew of measures taken by the Traffic Department since the beginning of this year.
“The awareness is increasing and at the same time the deterrents are also working,” he said.

According to latest statistics released by the ROP, in the first 75 days of 2013 fatalities on roads had come down by 15 per cent. This year 145 people were killed in the fist two and half months against 170 during the same period last year.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The veil behind the wheel

This letter to the editor of the Arab News is in response to the story about women drivers in Oman who veil their faces having to show their faces to traffic officers. Here is a link to the original story, and a link to the letter to the editor (text below) is here.


This is in reference to the story “Gulf women drivers reject the idea of removing veil.” I just do not understand the reason for imposing such a ban. Why should there even be a debate over liberty and rights of women that do not impinge on the rights of others?

The belief of Oman traffic police that the veil restricts vision and represents hazard is totally presumptuous and is not based on any scientific study and analysis. It is not at all an issue or a matter of concern involving safety of the drivers, passengers or others on the road when a woman drives a vehicle with her face covered as she can see things as clearly as others without it.

If the traffic police intend to see the face for identity purposes, there are a lot of other means to verify the identity. They could ask for her driving license or an ID card. Further, the technology has given us cheap and easy-to-use fingerprints devices, which could be deployed to verify the true identity of women drivers. There are several other administrative ways and means to monitor the activities of the motorists, including the women driving with veil.

I would wish that the Gulf states do not allow such issues to be hijacked by those who do not lose any opportunity to ridicule and make fun of issues and culture associated with Islam or Muslim communities.
Yes, there is a need to unify the laws and regulations related to traffic violations and offences in the Gulf region. More importantly, they should consider prescribing stricter punishments for reckless driving, including ignoring traffic lights, speeding, zigzag driving, abrupt lane crossing. These traffic violations should be considered criminal felonies and not just traffic misdemeanors. — Safi H. Jannaty, Dammam

Guardian approval a must for Saudi women to drive in Kuwait

From the Saudi English daily, the Arab News. A link to the story is here, and the text is below.

 Brig. Saleh Al-Najim, the head of a Kuwaiti delegation, said here yesterday that the traffic system in Kuwait does not grant licenses to Saudi women without the consent of their guardians. The statement came at a meeting of traffic managers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, which concluded here. He said this law was drafted due to Saudi Arabia's reservations on the issue of women driving. He said: "Saudi women wishing to obtain a driver's license in Kuwait must have the consent of their guardian. This goes for all Saudi women, young or old, single or married."

Al-Najim added: “We know of reservations on the issue of Saudi women driving in their own country and that their guardians sometimes do not agree to them driving. It is in light of this that we refuse to grant drivers' licenses without the knowledge of the family."

Traffic directors in the GCC yesterday agreed to create bilateral and collective e-linking between the Gulf states in order to facilitate the exchange of information and vehicle data, in addition to the transfer of property without the need for discharge papers.

Gen. Abdulrahman Al-Muqbil, director-general of the Directorate of Traffic in Saudi Arabia, said the key recommendations that resulted from the traffic managers’ meeting yesterday include the approval of an electronic link between Gulf states proposed by the UAE and Saudi Arabia, who are represented by the National Information Center and the e-government transactions program Yusur.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Gulf women drivers reject the idea of removing veil

The current Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Jeddah is stirring up the issue of women driving with a veil - that they must uncover their faces when speaking with a traffic officer. This has huge implications for Saudi Arabia where many women veil their faces. A link to the story from the Saudi English language daily Arab News is here and the story is pasted in below.

The Directors General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, in its 13th meeting on Monday in Jeddah, considered the draft from Gulf traffic departments as part of a larger effort to outline more specific unified traffic violations for all Gulf States.

While the draft is not a blanket ban on the veil, its passage into law would make it illegal for drivers to cover their faces in front of traffic police officers.

The Oman municipal traffic departments initially brought the issue to the GCC’s interior ministries. The proposal, described as the Gulf Traffic Act, specifies the “burqa,” “Algshawh” or "face veil" as illegal attire to wear while driving. GCC Council members tabled the discussion until its next meeting.

If adopted as a uniform law by the GCC traffic departments, the issue may have a significant impact on Saudi women’s attempts to drive cars anywhere in the GCC. But it would in particular affect potential female drivers in Saudi Arabia since a large portion of the female population wear the veil. Saudi women already drive cars in other GCC countries.

While speaking with Arab News, several Saudi women said it's their right to drive a vehicle with or without the veil.

Buhi Mohammed Khalid cultural adviser at Royal Saudi Embassy in UAE said that more than 50 percent women in UAE drive their own cars.

“I myself drive while covering my face; most of the women drivers, I find here, cover their faces, especially the old aged women drivers,” Khalid said.

“Though the youngsters don’t like to cover their faces, most Arab women cover their faces and drive, so it is not possible that they can put any ban on veil while driving.”

Ala’a Mohammed, another driver, said that women have the right to cover themselves.

“In Saudi Arabia we are not allowed to drive at all,” Mohammed said. “For this reason when Saudi women go to any Gulf country or abroad they drive the car. It totally depends on them whether they drive with the veil or without. Putting a ban on it will not be right.”

Khaloud Asmari, a Saudi student, said that traffic departments should look for a solution to this problem, but not put a ban on the veil.

“It will hurt our culture and traditions,” Asmari said. “Many women were riding horses in Prophet’s era, riding on camels, but we are not allowed to drive our own car.”

Abu Ahmed, a Saudi motorist, said it’s wrong for traffic departments to issue traffic violations to veiled women.

“There are a number of benefits of women driving their own cars as they can do their work by themselves instead of paying half of their salary to drivers every month,” Ahmed said.

Among other proposed traffic violations, the GCC would make it illegal to use a speed detection device that warns drivers of law enforcement speed radars. Vehicles that have a large accumulation of dirt that distorts the vehicle’s appearance and reading while drive also would be illegal.

Brig. Saleh Ahmed, head of the delegation for Kuwait, recommended during the meeting that delegates unite the “irregularities” in the GCC countries by monitoring them through an electronic link. He suggested connecting the driver’s licenses, vehicle ownership and technical maintenance and irregularities to eliminate forgeries among all GCC drivers.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to pilot an electronic link between the two countries to monitor traffic violations as the first stage of the process, which will lead to linking all GCC countries if the program is successful.

Traffic accidents in the GCC cost about $ 19 billion annually in losses, representing 3.7 percent of the total global losses.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Will society allow women to drive?

Interesting opinion piece by Mahmoud Ahmad in the Saudi English language daily Saudi Gazette. Toward the end of the article the author mentions that in rural areas women are driving and they are accepted in society. A link to the article is here, and it's pasted in below.

by Mahmoud Ahmad

May 20, 2013 - Saudi Gazette
There’s a decided single-mindedness in Saudi society when it comes to making decisions on social issues— especially issues that concern women. Just procrastinate and the issue will fade away. Is it me, or is it really the case that when  issues require a firm decision, we either take a long time deliberating or just don’t bother to consider them, allowing them to simmer. In either case, the manner in which we tackle issues is poor at best. In the first case, we are just delaying the inevitable and the second  — pushing the decision off with the attitude that out of sight means out of mind — is just wishful thinking.

Among the many issues demanding a decision from society is that of women driving. It has been said that only society can decide whether women should drive, but the question is: How long will this take?

Saudi society is divided on many mundane issues, including teaching English at the elementary level (a necessity of the times), changing the weekend to Friday and Saturday instead of Thursday and Friday ( in line with global necessity), girls’ sports in school (a healthy option for society) and many others. So why should the issue of women driving be any different?  The irony is that not that long ago, society was divided on the issue of women going to school. But once the decision was taken society accepted it with the naysayers realizing the necessity of education for both boys and girls. Now those who were once against the idea are used to it and the result is that there are many schools and universities for women in the Kingdom.

Saudi society was and is still divided over the contentious issue of women driving. The division, between those who are all for women driving and those who are totally against it, is deep. Those in favor claim that not only is it necessary for women to drive but it is their right. Saudi women want to be equal to women in neighboring Gulf countries and be able to drive themselves to work or pick up their children from school.

Those who argue for this decision say that women do not want to be held ransom by a house driver who, apart from often being late, in many instances, threatens to quit if he is not given more money.  I have read many sad stories of women who are at the mercy of such drivers and their blackmail. Yet many Saudi women, who despite being all for women driving, still vacillate even though they see the necessity. They express their fear of driving— if driving were allowed — fearing a negative reaction from society.

Those who argue against women driving mainly claim that Saudi society is not yet ready for women to drive. They claim that the infrastructure for women driving is not yet established. They claim that women who drive alone will be at risk of being harassed and sometimes attacked. A simple argument they use when comparing men and women driving is to ask whether a woman would be able to change a tire if she were stuck in a remote area.  Would she be able to deal with any mechanical issue if the car broke down on the side of the road? My response to these people would be: Can all men do the things we are asking of women? Think it over and you’ll realize that it answers these negative questions.

I had a debate with a friend of mine who was totally against women driving and in his opinion, women who attempt to drive should be severely punished because they will open the door for more vice. He claimed: “If women drive, they will be encouraged to go out alone without permission from their husbands or their male guardians. Therefore, women should be forbidden  to drive.”

I ask people who hold this view whether it would be acceptable if a legal guardian or a husband sat next to his wife while she was driving. Invariably they have no answer to that line of reasoning.

I would also like to ask those against women driving alone without a legal guardian if it is acceptable in Islam and in our culture for a woman to ride in a car driven by a stranger.

Society in UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and other Gulf states has no difficulty in accepting women driving, even though we all share the same values, beliefs and cultural mores.  Women in these countries drive wearing Hijab and Niqab  and society sees nothing wrong with it. I have also seen how women who drive in these countries are respected  and how harassment  is virtually nonexistent. They are respected because society is used to women driving and because anyone who attempts to harass women, in general, faces severe punishment.

It is ironic that many Saudi women have been applying for a driving license in the neighboring city of Dubai, according to Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan, chief of Dubai police. However, at the same time the Arabic press has reported  that the head of the Kingdom’s traffic department Gen. Abdulrahman Al-Muqbel has said that if a woman was caught driving, then she would be given a traffic fine. Two diverse views, yet the same issue.

We all know that Saudi women in remote areas drive their cars between villages and that people in those areas  accept it and do not see anything wrong with it. The women drive from one village to another and get their business done, or some times in emergencies they drive out of necessity.

Speaking to Okaz in a recent interview, Abdullah Al-Mutlaq, former judge at Hail court, said that there is nothing in religion that bans women from driving. He said that Saudi women in villages and remote areas are driving and face no problems. In addition, he said that they (women drivers) are the best drivers and respect the traffic law better than men. He called for a campaign from young Saudi men to respect women when they are driving until it becomes a norm.

It seems that Saudi society needs to get used to this issue. But to get used to it, we need to allow it first. Society accepted the education  of women over a period of time. Society accepted satellite dishes, which some people wanted banned, and they are now in every home.  Let the same action be taken for women driving. For a start, women above the age of 35 should be allowed to drive within the city.  The time may come when we tell our grandchildren that once upon a time women were not allowed to drive in our country, and they will laugh at us in disbelief.

— The writer can be reached at

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Saudi women want licenses, head to UAE

Bikya News reports on Saudi women driving in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). A link to the story is here and the story is pasted below.

DUBAI: Dubai traffic police are seeing an increase in the number of Saudi women seeking to obtain drivers’ licenses in the city and other cities within the United Arab Emirates.

Dubai Chief of Police Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan said police are receiving driving-license applications from Saudi women wanting to drive in Dubai and other cities, although he noted the number of requests are not particularly high.

He said Saudi women possessing driving licenses are permitted to drive in Dubai.
Although the number of Saudi women seeking to drive outside the Kingdom is relatively low, there is an increased interest to get behind the wheel. In fact, more and more Saudi husbands and fathers are supportive of the idea because it means convenience for the families and independence for their wives and daughters.
Ferdous Abbar, a 27-year-old Saudi living in Dubai, discovered that learning to drive was difficult, but that she had to do it.

“When I first moved here, I used to rely on my husband and taxis to get around the city, but then my husband made me apply to driving school to get my license,” Abbar said. “At first, I found it difficult and could not get over my fear and learn quickly. Had I learnt how to drive at an early age, it would have been easier.”
Huda Jazzar, 30, is another Saudi who was embarrassed to confront her non-Arab friends about not being able to drive.

“I am always asking my friends to pick me up and drop me off when I go to Dubai almost every week,” Jazzar said. “I spent so much money on taxis and metros that I set aside a special budget just for that. I decided to enroll in the driving school in Dubai.”

Saudi women also head to Bahrain to receive driving instructions and exams.

“My father taught me how to drive at the age of 16 because he said I might need it someday, said Afaf Al-Yafi, a 28-year-old lecturer. “I remember he used to take me for a ride everyday after sunset in our neighborhood in Dammam. For my 21st birthday, my father drove me to Bahrain and applied for the driving school there and I got my license that I now use internationally, especially when I take my children to Bahrain for a weekend. I must say, this is the best gift anyone could have given me.”

Saudi women need to take the initiative and learn how to drive, according to Sabria Jawhar, a Saudi newspaper columnist who wrote about Saudi women driving issues in the international press.
“We live at an age where Saudi women work in the Shoura Council and we are witnessing a boom in the labor market. All we need is to be independent from our drivers,” Jawhar said.

“I sometimes wonder why don’t we just go for it, like the time King Faisal opened educational institutes for women and told his people it is optional for them to enroll,” adding, “If this issue is only being delayed because society is rejecting it, then they shouldn’t we open driving schools and leave it up to society to decide if they want to send their girls to learn or not.”

Jawhar said she is not surprised to see women flying to other countries to learning to drive elsewhere.
“This is a skill that everyone may need at one time or another. We all need to learn how to drive in case of emergency and women are taking the initiative to sit behind the wheel and learn,” she said.

“They are getting a license because their own country is not providing them with one so they are pushing them to go somewhere else.”

Jawhar noted that if there is “nothing from a religious point of view against driving,” then there isn’t anything preventing women from driving.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Saudi women should not drive cars: female activist

Story from Gulf 24/7 - pasted in below and a link to the story is here.

Activist says women must get basic rights before they are allowed to drive

A prominent Saudi female activist, who has often infuriated local liberals by her ideas, has joined male voices which oppose any decision to end a long-standing ban and allow women in the conservative Moslem Gulf Kingdom to drive cars.

Rawdah Al-Yousif said the Saudi society is not ready yet to accept the idea of women driving cars and slammed what she described as internal and external campaigns focusing on the driving issue in the world’s dominant oil exporter.

She said women in Saudi Arabia must first be given their basic rights, including jobs, free housing, health insurance and other needs.

“I find it very strange that all these campaigns focus on one issue: driving cars by women…these campaigns continue despite the clear response by the rulers of this country that any decision to allow women to drive cars is up to the community not to just 3000 people or to some articles in newspapers or online,” she said.

“I hope there will be no decision to allow women to drive at this stage because we have first to respect the wish of the people and the society…we must not impose any decision on people who have not been given their basic rights yet…women are also not ready yet to bear their responsibility and leave their homes at a time when news of blackmail against the women are widespread.”

In an interview with the Saudi Arabic language daily Almuwatin, Al Yousif said those who campaign for women to drive cars should focus instead on women who cannot find jobs or those who are blackmailed by property landlords.

“These issues which must be given attention before the driving issue…in my opinion, all such issues do not need emotional thinking but a neutral, rational approach…if I were in an official position, the first thing I would do is to find a home for women who support families and get them jobs that will ensure their dignity and work stability….women have the right to get all these things and also health insurance in their names as well as the right to get passports for their children and to be able to send their children on scholarships abroad without the need for approval by the father who has abandoned his duty towards his family for some reason.”

Al Yousuf has frequently been criticized by Saudi liberals over her views, some of which have been dubbed backward. She triggered more criticism following her recent campaign to keep the guardianship system which bans Saudi women from travelling abroad with prior consent by their guardians.

The campaign was called "My Guardian Knows What's Best For Me” and it involved sending letters to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in which women confirmed their full support for an Islamic approach in administering the Kingdom.

In remarks published on her social network pages, Al Yousif wrote about "her dismay at the efforts of some who have liberal demands that do not comply with Islamic law (Shariah) or with the Kingdom's traditions and customs."

Al-Yousif also pointed out that the campaign's mission is to promote the voices of Saudi women who reject the "ignorant and vexatious demands" of liberals to do away with the guardianship system.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Saudi women to operate metro rail at PNU

Saudi Arabia's largest women's university, Princess Nura bint Abdulrahman U., is getting a 'driverless' metro rail transit system on campus. The Arab News reports that women will operate them (not technically drive, but 'operate' them). The system is set to open in September. A link to the story is here,  and the story is pasted in below. By the way, Nura bint Abdul Rahman was the beloved sister of the Kingdom's founder Abd al-Aziz Al Saud.

Wednesday 8 May 2013

The driverless metro rail, to be operated by a team of only Saudi women inside the women’s school at Princess Nora bint Abdurahman University (PNU) in Riyadh, will start functioning in September.

The project belongs to Saudi Railway Company (SAR) and has a contract value of around $ 150 million (SR 563 million), said Eduardo La Ficara, the commercial manager for Ansaldo STS, a multinational technology company that produces signaling and automation systems for railways. He said his company trained more than 55 women in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“They are certified and professional female drivers,” he said. The women however will not be driving the metro.

La Ficara talked to Arab News on the sideline of the fourth annual summit on Middle East Rail Opportunities that kicked off in Riyadh. The event highlights the rail infrastructure across the Kingdom based on case studies of successful railway networks.

“Over the last decade, the Middle East has seen a substantial increase in the number of established rail projects,” said Business Director of Fleming Gulf Conferences, Rameem Mohammed.
He said the GCC has invested several billions of dollars to construct a railway line connecting major countries across the region. Saudi Arabia is constructing a speed line, a monorail, the North-South railway project and there are many others in the pipeline.

Abdullah Balhaddad, vice president of the Railway Land Bridge Project Steering Committee from Saudi Railways Organization highlighted in his opening speech the importance of safety at a time when the GCC countries are embarking on the construction of their railways in a challenging Gulf environment.
Abdullah Almotawa, director at Arriyadh Development Authority, addressed the participants on metro networks across the Kingdom and their economic feasibility.

Rabii Ouadi of Huawei Technologies, head of business development, dwelt on innovative ICT Solutions for Saudi Railway Projects.

With the rapid development of railway transport, simple voice and constraint data services couldn’t satisfy the high-speed data requirement both from train operators and passengers, he said.

For train operators, a more efficient way to guarantee train operational safety and on-board security is becoming more and more important. Services such as on-board broadband video service are beyond the reach of GSM-R, an international wireless communications standard for railway communication. “They are readily available on a solution Huawei provides,” he observed.

He pointed out that for the passengers, many people are enthusiastic about using mobile broadband services while on the move with laptops, mobile phones and cloud computing devices.

The first day of the summit was chaired by Shahid Khan from the Saudi Bin Laden Group. Other speakers on this day included Liu Gang, director for the International Business Division at CNR Changchun Railway Vehicles Co. Ltd (CNRCRC) in China, Hamad Bin Yousef of Saudi Railway Company and John Thomas and Ahmed Al-Musawa Al Hashemi from Etihad Rail.

Railway technology solution providers Vossoloh and Parsons will attend the event.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Women driving in Saudi Arabia: Forever a thorny issue

Great column printed in the English daily The Saudi Gazette, which was translated from al-`Arabiya. Text pasted in below and a link to the story is here.

Last updated: Thursday, May 02, 2013 6:46 PM

Badria Al-Bishr
Al Arabiya

It is narrated that a semiliterate man liked the phrase “of course” the first time he heard it so he started using it whenever possible. He would go to the grocery store and say: “Give me yoghurt, gum and, of course, matches.” This is why the phrase “of course” exists in a context that has no meaning or significance. I remember this joke whenever I read the statements of officials on women driving cars in Saudi Arabia, an issue which always appears as if it is a huge crisis. So after each statement made, I find myself saying: "Of course, of course". I did so particularly when I read the traffic general director’s response when he was asked: “What would you do if you came across a woman driving a car?” He said: “I would issue a violation against her because she does not have a driver’s license.” Realizing he was caught off guard, he added: “Keep me away from this thorny matter.”

It is truly a thorny issue because it is similar to the mystery of whether the egg or the chicken came first. How can you issue a violation permit against a citizen for not having a driver’s license when your institution does not allow the said individual to attain one in the first place and when your institution does not open a driving school for the person? What if a woman carries a Gulf or Arab or international driver’s license? It is truly “of course” a thorny issue.

But statements on this subject never end. But “of course,” the most important of them are those prepared for foreign consumption. Perhaps the last of these was the justice minister’s statement that the issue of women driving is a social decision. Perhaps this statement has real significance, if one of the judges, who is part of the Ministry of Justice “of course,” has issued a decision to whip a girl for driving a car in the city of Jeddah although she said she only drove the car as a result of a medical emergency of one of her relatives. If the traffic institution issues a violation permit against the woman who drives the car, the judge issues a verdict to whip her and the cleric at the mosque emphasizes that prohibiting women from driving is for the sake of maintaining her morals, how did the whole issue become a social decision? A social decision is one where all circumstances are present to finalize it, and a person either chooses it or not. But enabling citizens to attain their human rights and benefit from developmental projects is not a social decision. Education today is every citizen’s right. Even the state has made it obligatory. Providing and facilitating transportation in the city and issuing laws regulating that transportation is a developmental project and a human right and not a social choice. Social choices do not clash with the laws of prohibition.

Discussions on the issue of women driving have increased, but they have been poisoned by ideological aims and interests. Prohibiting women from driving serves the interests of one party over another. So the issue has become a national concern.

We recently heard of young men who announced that they were willing to volunteer to prevent women from driving by crashing into their cars. One young man who made such a statement was the same man who was flirting with a girl in the market and asking her to take his phone number. But when he sees a girl behind the steering wheel, he says that he will take it upon himself to protect her morals and customs and crash into her car “of course.” I almost said that faking awareness on this issue has complicated it and made it an issue similar to Palestine’s. But I realized that comparing it to the Syrian revolution is closer. The lack of the state’s intervention in finalizing the issue has made the matter “thorny.” People have debated and taken rival stands on the matter, while those in the middle are “of course” afraid of what this rivalry may result in.

This issue has become material for movies. The Saudi movie “Scrap,” which participated in the Gulf Film Festival, is based on the true story of a lady who was arrested by a traffic officer while driving her pickup. The officer found out that she was poor and that she supported herself by collecting scrap. So he escorted her to the police station and asked her: "Where is your guardian?" Her only reply was: "God is my guardian."
All people benefit from the issue of women driving, except women themselves “of course!”

— ­Dr. Badria Al-Bishr is an award-winning Saudi columnist and novelist. She currently lectures at King Saud University's Department of Social Studies. Follow her on Twitter @BadryahAlbeshr