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Saudi Arabia government says it will allow women to drive

UPDATED: Tue., Sept. 26, 2017, 3:04 p.m.

In this Saturday March 29, 2014, file photo, a woman drives a car on a highway in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving. (Hasan Jamali / Associated Press)
In this Saturday March 29, 2014, file photo, a woman drives a car on a highway in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving. (Hasan Jamali / Associated Press)
By Karen Deyoung Washington Post

Women in Saudi Arabia will be permitted to drive in the kingdom, according to a royal decree issued in Riyadh on Tuesday that overturned one of the most widely criticized restrictions on human rights.

The decree, signed by King Salman and broadcast on state television, said that the “majority of senior scholars” had deemed the change legitimate under Sharia law, and ordered applicable government ministries to make whatever legal adjustments are required to implement it by next June.

The change aligns Saudi Arabia with virtually every other country in the world, including other conservative monarchies in the Persian Gulf regions that have long allowed more freedom for women.

It was unclear how the permission to drive would relate to other remaining restrictions, including laws requiring women to be accompanied by a male “guardian” when leaving their homes.

In recent years, a number of female Saudi activists have been arrested for defying the restriction.

Ali al-Ahmed, director of the Institute of Gulf Affairs, a group often critical of the Saudi leadership, said the decision reflects the influence of reforms pushed by the crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman.

“This shows his stamp,” said Ahmed. “The ban was increasing unpopular and difficult for the ruling family to justify. It was inevitable that it would be lifted someday. Now was the time with the Saudi economy struggling with low oil prices and the monarchy facing some internal pressures.”

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