Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive
In a positive step in the right direction, King Salman of Saudi Arabia has issued a decree lifting the ban on women driving cars, a ban which has become a symbol of the restrictions on women’s lives in the country. The change comes into effect immediately but apparently, the rollout will take months.
A high-level committee has been set up to examine the arrangements needed to allow women to drive “in accordance with the Islamic laws”. Saudi Arabia had been the only country in the world which did not allow women to drive. The move is apparently part of Saudi 2030 vision project to modernise the country.
Earlier this year the king issued an order which allowed women to gain access to education and healthcare without the permission of a male guardian. However, the change seems to be taking a long time to come into effect.
(Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is thought to be behind the lifting of the ban.)
While these recent changes are great, the fact that this is only happening now in 2017 only highlights just how discriminatory this country actually is and how draconian its laws are. Many people are taking a more cynical view on this news, with some suggesting that this good news story is more about manufacturing a good image for the country than it is about actually become more liberal.
Similarly, some people have been quick to point out that the moves makes sense economically. It will save many Saudi families, who spend money in drivers, lots of money. It will also allow more women to enter the workforce, something that the country has been promoting since it seems that the world is becoming less dependant on oil. It should also boost the motor car industry and help women stay in education longer, which is, of course, a wonderful thing.
While these changes are examples of great progress it must not be forgotten this Saudi is still the most restrictive country in the world for women and many other groups also, For example, while women can now drive, you will still be killed for being homosexual, atheist or even for just questioning religion or the state. Saudi is a country that will cut off your hand for stealing an apple, stone you to death for committing adultery and where currently, a boy Mujtaba’a al-Sweikat who was 17 year old when he was arrested, is facing beheading for attending a pro-democracy protest. It list of human rights violations is far too long to mention them all in this article.
(Saudi Arabian woman driving)
Saudi is also a country that funds the hard-line Wahhabist interpretation of Islam in many other countries abroad which has been linked (by some) to the rise of radicalization and extremism. The Saudi government has spent between 70-100 billion spreading its ideology around the globe, over ten times the amount of money the Soviet Union spent on propaganda during the cold war period.
Saudi is a country that is repeatedly accused of funding terrorism and for once I find myself agreeing with something Donald Trump once said “It’s (Saudi) the world’s biggest funder of terrorism. Saudi Arabia funnels our petrodollars, our very own money, to fund the terrorists that seek to destroy our people.” Since coming to office and negotiating a 110 billion dollar arms deal with Saudi, President Trump has somehow forgotten his previous views on the country.
At the very least this decision and other recent decisions like it, regardless of the motivations, will hopefully make a positive impact on the lives of many women and their families. Hopefully, these changes mark the start of a new trend in Saudi Arabia, one of fewer restrictions and less discrimination, only time will tell
“Saudi Arabia: Prince Mohammed plays his biggest car yet” The Guardian, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/27/saudi-arabia-prince-mohammed-plays-biggest-card-yet
“Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive” Al Jazeera, 2017. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/09/saudi-arabia-women-drive-170926190857109.html
“Saudi Arabia sentences an atheist to death for uploading a video renouncing Islam and the Prophet Mohammed” The Daily Mail, 2017 http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4448404/Saudi-Arabia-sends-atheist-death-renouncing-Islam.html
“Death Sentences and executions 2016” Amnesty International, 2016. https://www.amnestyusa.org/files/death_penalty_2016_report_embargoed.pdf
“Citizen Trump was right about the Saudis; President Trump, not so much” Las Angeles Times, 2017. http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-wenar-saudi-arms-deal-20170522-story.html
“Fighting, While Funding, Extremists” The New York Time, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/19/opinion/saudi-arabia-qatar-isis-terrorism.html?mcubz=1