The Saudis have prohibited women from driving in the kingdom since — well, since the kingdom existed. However, the London Telegraph and the New York Sun report that civil disobedience in the country has forced the Sauds to reverse their policy and stop being the only country that bars licensing on the basis of gender:
Saudi Arabia is to lift its ban on women drivers in an attempt to stem a rising suffragette-style movement in the deeply conservative state.
Government officials have confirmed the landmark decision and plan to issue a decree by the end of the year.
The move is designed to forestall campaigns for greater freedom by women, which have recently included protesters driving cars through the Islamic state in defiance of a threat of detention and loss of livelihoods.
The royal family has previously balked at granting women driving permits, claiming the step did not have full public support. The driving ban dates back to the establishment of the state in 1932, although recently the government line has weakened.
In fact, the official line from the Sauds will cause some snickering. They now claim that educating women — something that only started 40 years ago — allows them to be responsible enough to drive. Some in Saudi Arabia would still use this to argue against educating women, not allowing them to drive.
Others see the move as brilliant incrementalism. One member of the Shura Council, a “reformist”, says that the idea infuriated extremists when first proposed, but now it just makes them mad. Perhaps in another generation, they’ll just be annoyed, and then the Sauds can start working on permitting a headdress that will allow them to see the road properly.
As Gene Wilder told Cleavon Little in the shockingly funny Blazing Saddles, “Another twenty-five years and you’ll be able to shake their hands in broad daylight.” It might actually take longer than that. At least this is a start, if the Sauds are serious. The women need to keep up their protests for further acknowledgment of their rights. Maybe this will help dial down the extremism, especially given the central role of the Sauds to its impetus.
UPDATE: Another hint at a change: the Arab News site, an English-language mouthpiece for the royals, scolds Saudis for criticizing a woman for driving after having an accident in Egypt:
The fact that this girl — and many before her — drove without her male guardian’s permission of course draws plenty of comments from readers. They invariably point out the need to control those reckless women, but maybe if those readers spare a moment and actually think about the reasons why these incidents happen, and how women actually are deprived of a right and that it is not a male privilege to sit behind the wheel.
Just because we are the only country in the world that does not allow women to drive does not make us right.