Driver’s permit masquerades as freedom

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June 26, 2018 - 11:00 PM

Walaa Abou Najem, 30, drives her car for the first time, accompanied by her husband Ammar Akelah, at the first minutes of Sunday, June 24 when the royal decree of lifting the driving ban on women came into effect, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Gehad Hamdy/dpa/

On Sunday, dozens of joyous women climbed into the driver’s seats of their luxury vehicles, fired up their engines and drove through the streets of the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh. It must have felt extraordinary after being barred for so long from engaging in an activity taken for granted by most women in the developed world.

These Saudi women were among the first to be issued driving licenses after the decades-long ban was lifted. The change is among a series of social and economic reforms pushed by young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to transform the monarchy into what he describes as a “normal country.” Some of those changes would improve the condition of women, including giving them permission to attend sporting events, and offering more opportunities for them to participate in sports. The crown prince’s Vision 2030 plan also seeks to expand the role of working women until they are one-third of the workforce.

Sunday’s milestone was celebrated by Saudi women and men alike. One woman said, “I feel free like a bird.” Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal tweeted a video of his daughter driving shortly after midnight on Sunday, claiming that she was the first woman to take a legal turn behind the wheel. “The woman now has … taken her freedom,” he enthused.

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