TEL AVIV – A prominent Saudi journalist called on his government to immediately lift the “illogical” and “meaningless” ban on women drivers.
Writing in the Saudi daily Okaz in an oped translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Khalaf Al-Harbi said that “denying women the natural right to drive” is abnormal, as is calling driving a “sin,” and the ban is preventing the country from progressing.
Harbi expressed his outrage that it is acceptable for women to work but not to drive themselves to their places of employment, which results in costs of around $300 per month.
“Have you ever seen a working woman who employs a driver who devours half her pay?” he asks.
Harbi praised the “courageous” decision taken by the government in April to limit the authority of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, commonly known as the religious police.
The new law has curbed human rights violations by the authority’s patrolling officers, who are no longer permitted to make arrests or interrogate people – and women in particular – on the street. According to Harbi, this had a positive impact on Saudi Arabia’s image in the world, since “the unfortunate incidents that preoccupied public opinion and whose shameful echoes reached the global media have almost completely stopped.”
The success of these measures, wrote Harbi, should spur the government to make similar reforms to the driving ban.
“This important and courageous decision instantly broke through an imaginary barrier that for years had prevented us from becoming a normal modern society like all the other societies in the world today,” he writes.
Reversing the ban would also allow people to stop thinking that “Islam is opposed to development, planning, and the protection of human rights,” he advises.
In 2014, proposals to lift the prohibition were put forward by King Abdullah’s advisory board. They include allowing women over the age of 30 to drive during daytime hours, but so far nothing has been implemented.