US President Donald Trump welcomed the decision as «a positive step toward promoting the rights and opportunities of women in Saudi Arabia».
Saudi Arabia’s historic decision to allow women to drive won plaudits internationally and inside the kingdom on Wednesday, as euphoria mixed with disbelief among activists who long fought the ban.

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia’s decree, which takes effect next June, is part of an ambitious reform push that runs the risk of a backlash from hardliners.

Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world to ban women driving.

US President Donald Trump welcomed the decision as «a positive step toward promoting the rights and opportunities of women in Saudi Arabia».

British Prime Minister Theresa May hailed it as an «important step towards gender equality».

Saudi Arabia will use the «preparatory period» until June to expand licensing facilities and develop the infrastructure to accommodate millions of new motorists, state media said.

Clerics in Saudi Arabia have long opposed lifting the ban.

The announcement on Tuesday follows decades of resistance from female activists, many of whom were jailed for flouting the ban.

«A glorious day. Can’t hold back my tears,» tweeted Latifah Alshaalan, a member of the Shura Council, which advises the cabinet. «Congratulations to the women of my homeland.»

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International said: «It is a testimony to the bravery of women activists who have been campaigning for years.»

Under the country’s guardianship system, a male family member — normally the father, husband or brother — must grant permission for a woman’s study, travel and other activities. It was unclear whether women would require their guardian’s permission to apply for driving licences.

After Tuesday’s announcement, the hashtags «I am my own guardian» and «Saudi Women Can Drive» gained traction on social media.

One Saudi woman tweeted a picture of three women in a convertible going shopping, with the message: «Us soon».

The policy could socially liberate women — heavily reliant on foreign drivers and ride-sharing apps — and also boost the economy at a time of low oil prices by increasing their participation in the workforce, analysts say.

«Putting women behind the wheel is the most effective way to announce to the world — and to Saudis — that the kingdom is entering a new era,» Kristin Diwan, of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, said.

There was some opposition online, however, with some men criticising the decision on Twitter under the slogan «the people refuse women driving».

«The Saudi people and especially the young people are not ready for this phenomenon and it will bring a lot of misfortune,» one tweeted.

But most who used the negative hashtag were women mocking men opposed to them driving.

The announcement follows a dazzling gender-mixed celebration of Saudi National Day at the weekend, the first of its kind, which aimed to spotlight reforms.

Men and women danced in the streets to drums and electronic music, in scenes that were a stunning novelty in a country.

Women were also allowed into a sports stadium — previously a male-only arena — to watch a concert, a move that chimes with the Vision 2030 plan for social and economic reform.

With more than half the country aged under 25, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the architect of the reforms, is seen as catering to the aspirations of youths.

«Allowing women to drive is the biggest PR win that Saudi Arabia — and Prince Mohammed — could have in a single swoop,» said Jane Kinninmont, of London-based think tank Chatham House.

This is exactly what Saudi King said in the decree
We take into consideration (or we study) the pros of allowing women to drive and the cons of banning them from driving, while taking into account the necessary legal rules and adhering to them.

We also refer to what the majority of the Council of Senior Scholars agreed on, which is that the original Islamic ruling in regards to women driving is to allow it, and that those who have opposed it have done so based on excuses that are baseless and have no predominance of thought. The scholars see no reason not to allow women to drive as long as there are legal and regulatory guarantees to avoid the pretexts (that those against women driving had in mind), even if they are unlikely to happen.

And because the country — with the help of God — is the guardian of Islamic values, it considers preserving those values one of its priorities, in this matter and in others, and will not hesitate to take any means to ensure the security and safety of its society.

Therefore; adopt the application of the Traffic Regulations and its executive list — which include issuing driving licences to men and women alike, and forming a high-level committee of ministries (including the Interior Ministry, Finance Ministry, Ministry of Labour and Social Development) to study the necessary steps needed to implement the regulations. The committee must submit its recommendations within 30 days. The implementation — God willing — will be from 10/10/1439 (Islamic date in June 2018) and in accordance with rules and regulations, and the completion of the necessary steps.

Three historic firsts in the last five days
Sept 23: Women were allowed to enter the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh for the first time when Saudi Arabia celebrated the 87th anniversary of its foundation with concerts, including a pageant operetta.

Sept 27: The Saudi King issued a decree authorising the issuance of driving licences for women in the kingdom from June 2018. The country will use the preparatory period to expand training and licensing facilities.

Sept 28: Saudi appointed its first spokeswoman, Fatimah Baeshen, at its embassy in Washington. The US-raised Saudi citizen worked with various ministries in Riyadh before returning to the States in 2017.

khaleejtimes.com

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