aside Saudi Arabia Takes A Step Forward By Allowing Women To Drive Cars

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KING SALMAN

Progress in countries like Saudi Arabia can be slow. In September 2017, the new King Salman has granted women the power to drive vehicles. It is a step forward. The below write-ups detail the event and the reporter Katie Paul who works in Saudi Arabia gives us some background tidbits.

Here is the rest of the story…

As per a September 26, 2017 Reuters report by Stephen Kalin and Yara Bayoumy, “Despite trying to cultivate a more modern image in recent years, the driving ban had been a longstanding stain on Saudi Arabia’s international image.”

“Saudi King Salman (around 9/26/17) ordered that women be allowed to drive cars, ending a conservative tradition seen by rights activists as an emblem of the Islamic kingdom’s repression of women.”

“The royal decree ordered the formation of a ministerial body to give advice within 30 days and then implement the order by June 24, 2018, according to state news agency SPA.”

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PRINCE KHALED BIN SALMAN

“It stipulated that the move must “apply and adhere to the necessary Sharia standards”, referring to Islamic law. A majority of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, Saudi Arabia’s top clerical body, had approved its permissibility.”

“An hour after the official announcement in Saudi Arabia, a jubilant Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Khaled bin Salman, said it was “an historic and big day in our kingdom.”

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On October 2, 2017. Katie Paul of Reuters penned the following report, “When women drive the story in Saudi Arabia.”

“All public spaces in Saudi Arabia enforce some level of gender segregation, down to the checkout lines at mall cafeterias. Sometimes they are divided into men’s and women’s sections, while others are designated “singles” (male) and “family.”

TUNISIAN 07iht-m07-jordan-art-thumb-blog427“On the night the surprise state news announcement that women would be allowed to drive pinged on millions of smartphones across the kingdom, I was seated in the women’s section of a banquet hall covering a company news event, having lost a minor battle with the event organizer to join the men.”

” The women’s section is usually a frustrating place for me as a reporter because the power-brokers I need to interview are inevitably men on the other side of the partition.”

“That night, it was precisely where I wanted to be.”

“I immediately interviewed two sisters seated near me. They vehemently disagreed about male guardianship and the religious police (one taking a more liberal view, the other more conservative), but both were thrilled by the driving decision.”

“Driving is hardly the only restriction women in Saudi Arabia face, but it is a big one. Whereas most of the world’s cities are dense, Saudi cities are vast and low-lying with many highways, few high-rises and even fewer sidewalks.”

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“Riyadh, where I live, is 1,800 square kilometers (694 square miles), more than double the area of the five boroughs of New York City. Getting around requires a car.”

“Prior to the arrival of Uber and Careem, women’s mobility was extremely restricted, not only by the law, but also by the absence of public transportation in Saudi Arabia. Until recently, most women depended on a family member or a driver sponsored by the family to go anywhere. These ride-sharing apps have given women some independence.”

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“At the event that night, on the female side of the partition, women smiled and shared congratulations, glued to their phones as they WhatsApped their disbelief to family and friends. Putting women in the driver’s seat will open even more opportunities. In my case, it will enable me to reach communities outside the major cities or race to cover a breaking story without needing to rely on a male colleague for a ride.”

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RIYADH

On October 2, 2017, Katie Paul and Stephen Kalin of Reuters penned the following report, “Saudi women can drive at last but some say price is silence.”

Excerpts:

“Saudi Arabian women were given the right to drive last week (9/26/17) after nearly three decades of campaigning, but some activists say that breakthrough has come with a price: their silence.”

“While the royal decree ending the ban on women driving has been hailed as proof of a new progressive trend in the deeply conservative Muslim kingdom, some women say they have been cowed into not speaking about it – a charge the government denies.”

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“As Saudi Arabia pushes through reforms over the objections of conservatives, the leadership is trying to modernize without losing the support of its traditional base.”

“Some Islamist clerics seen by the government as dabbling in politics have been detained after an apparent crackdown on potential opponents of the kingdom’s rulers last month which now appears to have paved the way for lifting the driving ban.”

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“Activists and analysts say the government is also keen to avoid rewarding activism, which is forbidden in the absolute monarchy, and seems determined not to antagonize religious sensitivities.”

“But seemingly inviolable Saudi norms are being turned on their head, with some religious clerics who supported policies such as bans on women driving and gender mixing now apparently changing their minds.”

“The changes suggest a possible shift in the power balance toward the Al Saud ruling family away from the Wahhabi clerical establishment.”

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WHAT MATTERS IS THE WIN

“In the first protest against the driving ban, in 1990, 47 women drove around central Riyadh for nearly an hour until they were detained by the religious police, then fired from their jobs and barred from traveling.”

 “One participant, a university professor now in her 60s, recalls that act of defiance which sparked a new era in the Saudi women’s rights movement.”

“On the first loop, we were not caught. But the second time, we were caught. I think somebody called. I remember one man, he was in front of us in his car. He went like this,” she said, wagging her finger. “That meant he didn’t want us to drive.”

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“More protests followed, but the government has not acknowledged the activists’ efforts since ending the ban.”

“Activists who said they had received phone calls ordering them to remain silent spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals.”

“He was very straightforward. He said you are ordered not to comment on the women driving issue or procedures will be taken against you. You are held accountable for anything posted after this call,” one of the callers said.”

“Another woman, Tamador al-Yami, apologized on Twitter for being unable to comment “for reasons beyond my control”.

“Everybody knows.. everybody who follows.. we don’t need to say it out loud,” she wrote.”

“The government says the allegations are false and cites women who have spoken out, with op-eds in the New York Times and CNN.”

“No one has been censored or warned about expressing their views,” an Information Ministry statement said.”

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KING SALMAN

THE KING WINS

“Ending the driving ban is part of the kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform program aimed at diversifying the economy away from oil and opening up Saudis’ cloistered lifestyles.”

“Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 32, is the face of that change. Many young Saudis regard his recent ascent to power as proof their generation is taking a central place in running a country whose patriarchal traditions have for decades made power the province of the old and blocked women’s progress.”

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“Saudi media has tagged news about the ban: “The king wins with women driving”. Police however issued two arrest warrants over the weekend for men who posted threats against women drivers.”

“Activist Hala al-Dosari, who lives in Boston, said lifting the ban had also been intended to silence women activists.”

“The monarchy wants to be central for the Saudi state inside and outside as the owners of any reform. They are not willing to have their position contested,” she said.”

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“How can they convince the world they are the patrons of modernization when the women of Saudi Arabia are challenging those notions?”

“Eman al-Nafjan, who participated in a driving protest in 2011, said she was relieved the ban had been lifted but frustrated that the role of women activists had been overlooked.”

The professor who took part in the 1990 protest said her family had not expressed strong opinions about her activism years ago, but one relative now thinks she is a celebrity.

“My niece thinks I‘m someone special,” she said. “She says, ‘Oh, auntie! What you did!’”

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