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Women in Saudi Arabia can now drive as longstanding ban ends

25 June 2018

Women drove up and down a road in Al Khobar city at night and cheered as the police looked on, Reuters reported. Many Saudi women spent most of their wages on drivers as a result.

"Saudi Arabia has just entered the 21st century", he said in the video to his granddaughters in the back seat.

The number of new drivers remains low, as women with foreign permits were only able to convert them starting this month.

Al-Ajaji had a US driver's license before obtaining a Saudi one and appeared comfortable at the wheel as she pulled up and parked.

Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world where women were banned from driving.

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Their stunning arrest has cast a pall on the social openings being pushed by 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is seen as the force behind reforms reshaping the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia is among the most conservative countries in the world and women have traditionally had much fewer rights than men.

They ensured restaurants and stores closed their doors for daily prayers and waved sticks at women who had their hair or face uncovered, shouting through microphones attached to the tops of their cars as they patrolled the streets.

"I had to call my family in Riyadh to ask them if this was true", she said.

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Hoda al Helaissi is one of the first female members of the Shura council, the King's advisory body on all aspects of life in Saudi Arabia.

The government has been keen to promote the end of the ban as a sign that women's rights are advancing after decades of worldwide criticism, even after several of the country's most prominent women's rights activists were arrested last month in a national security-related case.

Previously, women in Saudi Arabia had to depend on chauffeurs and male relatives to travel anywhere via auto, even to run simple errands.

Prince Mohammed, appointed heir to the most powerful throne in the Middle East a year ago this month, has also lifted a ban on cinemas and mixed-gender concerts, following his public vow to return the kingdom to moderate Islam.

"It's like they say the ocean is made of little drops of water and that's exactly how I feel today". There's also a waitlist of several months for a course at Princess Nora University in Riyadh.

After Fawzia al-Bakr drove through the streets of Riyadh in 1990 to challenge a ban on women driving in the conservative kingdom, she lost her job, received death threats and had to move house. "Some naughty guys, you know", she said, giggling shyly.

Saudi activist and author Manal al-Sharif, who was jailed in Saudi Arabia 2011 after posting a video on YouTube of herself driving a vehicle, had planned to visit the country from Australia, where she now lives.

"I definitely won't like to drive", said Fayza al-Shammary, a 22-year-old saleswoman.

Excited over the end of the ban, Tamtam said, "I'm so happy the time has come".

Not sounding as convinced, Obeid said: "I wish there were more men like you".

Women in Saudi Arabia can now drive as longstanding ban ends