A billionaire Saudi prince has taken a surprising stance against one of his country’s longstanding codes: banning women from driving.
Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, a member of the Saudi royal family, published a four-page op-ed on your website and linked to Twitter, stating his belief that it is about time Saudi women started driving cars.
The country’s ban, the prince wrote, is “fundamentally an infringement of women’s rights.”
“Preventing a woman from driving a car is today a rights issue similar to preventing her from receiving an education or having an independent identity,” she said, before citing a list of social, financial, economic, religious and political reasons. to lift the ban.
Alwaleed, who does not hold a formal position in the Saudi government, runs the Riyadh-based investment firm Kingdom Holding Company, which has stakes in several Western companies. The investor is worth $18.9 billion and has been called the “Arab Warren Buffett” by some.
However, Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council, which advises the country’s cabinet, refused to even look into the idea last month, so changes to the ban are unlikely any time soon.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women cannot drive. Women’s rights activists have criticized the country’s other strict requirements for women, including that Saudi women obtain permission from a husband or male relative to receive a passport, travel outside the country or get married. Women are also expected to wear headscarves and loose-fitting clothing, such as an abaya, when out in public.
Despite the restrictions, Saudi women are increasingly enrolling in universities and entering the workforce. And last year saw a number of key milestones: Women were allowed to vote for the first time in the country’s history during municipal elections in December. In April, Saudi Arabia banned its religious police from making arrests on their own.
Alwaleed shared her article on Twitter with the words “Stop the debate: Time for women to drive” in Arabic and English. The post prompted some Twitter users to use the Arabic hashtag “it’s time for women to drive.”
One Twitter user said: “Logically, a woman driving a car is better. It’s safer than depending on a foreigner. More than that, she and her family deserve more of her salary than a driver or a visa dealer.”
In his opinion piece, the prince said that years ago, a young man would be “rejected” for wanting to marry a working woman. “Today, a working woman is a coveted partner in marriage,” he wrote.
Citing labor statistics, he said more than a million Saudi women are in the workforce, meaning they all need a safe way to get to work every day. The alternative to driving for most Saudi women is to hire a foreign driver, which the prince says reduces a family’s disposable income and contributes to the “diversion of billions of riyals each year from the Saudi economy to destinations abroad in the form of remittances”.
A sharp drop in the price of oil, Saudi Arabia’s main source of income, has forced the government to cut some benefits this year, hurting the middle class.
“In the past, many of those calling for women to drive were muffled by the societal objections being raised and the notion that allowing women to drive was more of a luxury than a necessity,” she said. Several current “fatwas” in the country argue that women should be banned from driving out of concern for their “safety and virtue,” the prince wrote. But the fatwas do not apply to the act of driving itself, but to what could possibly result from it, he wrote.
“Today, the circumstances have changed and having women to drive has become an urgent social demand based on the current economic circumstances.”
But then, not long after, local media reported that he said “Saudi Arabia is not ready” to end the ban.
Allowing women to drive “is not so much a religious issue as it is an issue that relates to the community itself accepting or rejecting it,” he said.