Saudi Arabia said to reassess ban on women drivers

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Saudi Arabia is reassessing its controversial ban on women drivers, a senior minister told campaigners, it was reported.

“Rest assured that the issue is being discussed, and expect a good outcome,” Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammad Bin Nayef was quoted as saying by activists Aziza Al Yousuf and Hala Al Dosari after they had a meeting with him in Riyadh.

Al Yousuf and Al Dosari, who this summer staged a protest in the Saudi capital against the ban, told the AFP news wire the minister said the issue was “a matter to be decided by the legislative authority.”

“We expect a royal decree that gives us this right,” Al Yousuf added.

Women are not permitted to drive in the highly conservative Gulf state, which practices an austere version of Wahabi Islam, despite there being no official law that prohibits this. In October, a number of female activists organised a nationwide day of defying the ban, with many posting video clips of themselves driving on YouTube.

Earlier this week, the kingdom’s highest Islamic authority warned the Gulf country not to become preoccupied with the issue, while accusing users of online social media of spreading “misleading doctrines”.

Giving a lecture at Saudi’s Taibah University, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh said that the “objective behind not allowing women to drive is to protect society from evils”.

The campaign to overturn the ban was largely organised through online channels such as Twitter and came despite warnings from the government urging it not to go ahead.

The Grand Mufti accused those that use such platforms of attempting to destabilise Saudi society. “They seek to undermine the social fabric and they are platforms for malice that promote misleading doctrines,” he was quoted as saying by a local newspaper.

He added that the Qur’an, the Islamic holy text, stipulated that Muslims must obey national rulers, in the latest example of the Grand Mufti’s increasingly political statements.

Despite the comments by the high profile cleric, Suad Abu-Dayyeh, from campaign group Equality Now, welcomed the move by the government.

"Under the Saudi Arabian male guardianship system, women are vulnerable to a wide range of discrimination in both private and public life and have limited decision-making authority and freedom of movement,” she said.

“Some positive steps towards addressing this have been taken recently. We now urge Saudi authorities to respond to increasing national and international pressure to lift the ‘fatwa’, which effectively prevents women from driving in the kingdom.

“We also support the growing number of brave Saudi women who are claiming the right to drive and wholeheartedly encourage moves towards ending this serious human rights violation".

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