Saudi driving ban on women to be lifted

Veiled female Saudi football fans hold national flags during their team's match against Qatar during the 19th Gulf Cup football Tournament in Muscat on January 5, 2009. AFP PHOTO/STR (Photo credit should read STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has issued a decree allowing women to drive for the first time, state media say.

Government ministries are to prepare reports within 30 days and the order will be implemented by June 2018, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to forbid women from driving.

Rights groups have campaigned for years to allow women in Saudi Arabia to drive, and some women have been imprisoned for defying the rule.

“The royal decree will implement the provisions of traffic regulations, including the issuance of driving licences for men and women alike,” the Saudi Press Agency (SPA) said.

The move was welcomed by the US state department, which called it “a great step in the right direction”.

Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who was detained for 73 days in 2014 for flouting the ban, tweeted “thank God” following the announcement.

Manal al-Sharif, an organiser of the Women2Drive campaign who has also been imprisoned for driving, said on Twitter that Saudi Arabia would “never be the same again”.

Activist Aziza al-Yousef called it “a development that indicates a change in women’s rights”, adding: “We congratulate the nation and its women and we hope that other pending issues get resolved too.”

The decree said that the move should “adhere to the necessary Sharia standards”, but did not give details.

The SPA report said a majority of the Council of Senior Religious Scholars had backed the idea.

Correspondents say that although it is not technically illegal for women to drive, only men are allowed driving licences and women who drive in public risk being arrested and fined.

Saudi law enforces a strict form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism and is known for its gender segregation rules.

Women have to adhere to strict dress codes, must not associate with unrelated men, and if they want to travel, work or access healthcare they must be accompanied by – or receive written permission from – a male guardian.

The Islamic kingdom recently faced a backlash from conservatives on social media after allowing women to participate in Saturday’s National Day celebrations for the first time.

The festivities included fireworks, light shows and a concert in King Fahd International Stadium in the capital, Riyadh.

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