Saudis hail historic end of driving ban
By Sultan al-Barei in Riyadh and AFP
Saudi Arabia's historic decision Tuesday (September 26th) to allow women to drive won plaudits internationally and inside the kingdom, as euphoria mixed with disbelief among activists who long called for ending the ban.
King Salman's decree will take effect next June, as the kingdom will expand licensing facilities and develop the infrastructure to accommodate millions of new drivers, state media said.
The decision to allow women to drive is "bold and decisive", Umm al-Qura University professor Abdullah al-Muqrin told Al-Mashareq.
The decision comes at exactly the right time, said Rashid Al-Toukhi, editor-in-chief of the international al-Waqaee magazine and director of al-Waqaee Institute for Media Studies and Publishing.
Lifting the ban had become a pressing demand and an economic and social need, he told Al-Mashareq.
"More than 1.5 million foreign drivers work in Saudi Arabia and make together more than 25 billion Saudi riyals ($6.6 billion) annually," he said, adding that this money will gradually be saved as more women start driving and the need for drivers decreases.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency posted statement after statement of approval from officials and provincial governors in the wake of the royal decree.
Even the kingdom's highest religious body said the majority of its members had accepted that women driving was "permissible".
Women express their joy at decree
Journalist Radwa al-Dosari told Al-Mashareq she cannot express her joy at the decision.
"It has been like a complete dream," she said.
"A glorious day. Cannot hold back my tears," tweeted Saudi shura council member Latifah Alshaalan. "Congratulations to the women of my homeland."
"I have not slept since last night," exclaimed Nora, her eyes glowing, rimmed with black liner.
Though she wore a black niqab which concealed most of her face, Nora's excitement on Wednesday was infectious.
"I am 27 years old and I have been waiting ages for this decision. Now it is finally a reality, and I cannot wait for it to come into effect in nine months," she told AFP.