CHARLOTTE, NC: The Muslim world changed dramatically while you were sleeping last night. That’s when Saudi Arabia changed. Women are now driving. This for the first time in over 60 years. Reports out of the desert kingdom said that some police officers even distributed roses to many of the first-time drivers.
“Yes, that’s right,” said Mo Gannon who wrote an editorial for the English language paper “The Arab News. “They served me coffee and chocolates, and on Sunday police officers were handing out flowers to female drivers. That’s how much the Saudi story has changed,” she added.
Saudi Shoura Council member Lina Almaeena stated with glee,
“I feel proud. I feel dignified and I feel liberated.”
At the French Grand Prix at Le Castellet, Aseel Al-Hamad, the first female member of the Saudi national motorsport federation, drove a Formula 1 race car in a special parade marking the event.
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Vision 2030
Already Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has introduced several ground-breaking initiatives in an effort to reduce his country’s dependence on oil and to diversify its economy. Women have been granted permission to attend soccer games and to join the army and intelligence services. Recently the first women’s marathon and a bike race were held with government approval.
Saudi Arabia’s economy has relied on oil since it was discovered at Well #7 near Khobar in 1938. Today, as other countries are beginning to turn away from Saudi oil, the crown prince has started a program called “Vision 2030” which is intended integrate women into the workplace over the next 20-plus years.
It will not be easy. As with any radical change, there comes resistance. Allowing women the right to drive is a major concession that will not be without repercussions, at least temporarily.
Anticipating such defiance, protection measures have already begun including precautions against harassment of women drivers.
Women’s rights slow in coming, but they are coming
As far back as 15 or 20 years ago, it was obvious that eventually women would emerge with rights that had previously been denied to them. There are still countless other barriers that must either fall or be adjusted such as medical care, opening a bank account, applying for a passport and traveling abroad as well as archaic regulations on marriage and divorce.
Thus driving is a significant change in the Kingdom, but baby steps will be required with each innovation.
Already Lina Almaeena has encountered situations that she was probably oblivious to in the past.
“What’s making me anxious is the misconduct of a lot of the drivers, the male drivers. Unfortunately, they’re not as disciplined as they should be. Simple things such as changing lanes and using your signals — this is making me anxious,” Almaeena said.
Male Saudi drivers are among the worst in the world. Islam has a word called Inshallah which means “if God wills it.” Saudi men take that expression to heart when they get behind the wheel.
Many streets have medians just to prevent head-on collisions. Traffic lights often allow only one lane of traffic to move at an intersection resulting in four changes of lights rather than two. It is not uncommon for a driver in the extreme left-hand lane of a major highway to cross in front of two lanes of traffic without giving a signal in order to get to an off-ramp at the last minute. “Inshallah.”
Come to a traffic light with two lanes of the paved road and suddenly a third lane will pop up on the shoulder so the driver at the right can bypass the line. And don’t hesitate to put your foot on the gas at the precise moment a traffic light turns green or cars behind you will sound like New York City at rush hour.
Women’s lives will change
One Muslim woman from Sudan whose husband is now a doctor in Saudi Arabia frequently complained that she was discriminated against because her place of employment was only about a quarter of a mile from the main gate of the compound where she lived.
As such, Sana, had to be driven to and from work every day or take a taxi just to negotiate that final stretch of road to get to her job.
Little wonder she was among the most vocal female voices in the war for women’s liberation in Saudi Arabia, even as far back as the turn of the 21st century.
Change is coming to the Arab world, but it must come from within.
Women will be one of the primary forces behind that change as will Muslims themselves as they slowly but increasingly become aware of the backward nature of their lives.
Still, the current movement is a positive sign in the Arab world that could signal other major changes will soon be on the horizon.
For the Saudis, women may be discovering that driving a car is a bold new experience but they have, indeed, been a “driving force” for change for a long time.
On Saturday night Saudi women rode in the back of the car. On Sunday they sat up front. They are the Rosa Parks’ of the Arab world.
For the Saudis, change is a matter of survival.
Lead Image: Saudi Aramco Oil Museum is situated about a mile from Well #7 where Saudi oil was found (commdiginews.com Image: Robert Taylor)
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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