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Saudi Arabia: Don't politicize the issue of women driving - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The famous “scary” story has once again returned to the spotlight, namely the issue of women driving in Saudi Arabia. It returns this time under different circumstances, and is being affected by media hype that is dictated by the prevailing conditions in the region, and at a time when some people are simply looking for anything related to Saudi Arabia.

The basic problem is that the debate over women’s right to drive [in Saudi Arabia] has been transformed into a show of force. If women were allowed to drive, this would mean a victory for one trend over another, whilst if they are not allowed, this is evidence of the strength of one trend against the other. This is the wrong way to approach such a subject; confining the issue in this manner makes light of it.

Legally speaking, there is a group of prominent religious scholars who believe women are permitted to drive, and that there are no regulations preventing this. King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz previously said that the issue of women driving was a social issue, as did Crown Prince Sultan bin Abdulaziz and Second Deputy Prime Minister Prince Naif Bin Abdulaziz. This was something that was also reiterated by Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud Al-Faisal, so where is the problem?

Simply speaking, the problem is that the issue of women driving has become a source of psychological dread for all parties, because the issue is being symbolically portrayed as a conflict between different trends, and this is wrong. A definitive decision must be taken over this issue, and it should be viewed as being a natural thing, such as women working as doctors and so on, rather than a victory for one trend over another. However, we must also take into account an important point, namely that the issue of women driving is not something that can be resolved immediately, as if this were the lifting of the emergency law in Egypt or Syria, for example. There are logistical matters to be taken into consideration, from the Traffic Department, to other issues. The problem today is that with the media coverage of events in the region, certain terms are being used excessively or made light of.

When a Saudi woman recently drove her car in Jeddah, nobody said anything. Another women was caught driving in Al-Ras [in Al-Qassim province], and she was detained by the police for a few hours and then released. However there is another story of a female Saudi driver in the news which is quite different. She was stopped and told not to drive because there is no organization in place [to regulate female driving], but she returned the following day to drive yet again. Her actions were filmed and uploaded on “YouTube” in order to provoke people, and this approach was, of course, unwise.

Therefore, the key issue here is that women driving in Saudi Arabia is inevitable, so why turn this into a prize-fight? It would be useful to immediately announce the formation of a committee to study this issue, taking a number of suggestions into account, including: allowing the introduction of female drivers in order to reassure society, as well as allowing Saudi Arabian women, of a certain age, to drive in certain cities as part of a pilot scheme. Later the age limit can be reduced, and the experiment extended to other Saudi cities. This is in order to observe the logistical conditions, from the Traffic Department and other issues, as well as ensuring decency with regards to appearances. Before all of this, there must be a strict and firm law in place to ensure that women drivers are not subject to any forms of sexual harassment or insult.

Thus I would say that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with women driving, and this is something that can be implemented calmly. However what is most important is that this issue must not be politicized, because that is in no one’s interest.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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