Saudi Prince on Twitter: ‘Stop the debate. Time for women to drive’

Published November 30th, 2016 - 10:05 GMT
The ban on women driving is the most famous of Saudi's sexist restrictions (Wikimedia Commons)
The ban on women driving is the most famous of Saudi's sexist restrictions (Wikimedia Commons)

The hashtag “the time has come for women’s driving” has been trending on Twitter in Saudi Arabia after a member of the royal family, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, tweeted yesterday: “Stop the debate: Time for women to drive.”

The vocal supporter of women’s rights, who does not hold a government post, also issued a statement detailing his social and economic case for ending the ban:

“Having women drive has become an urgent social demand predicated upon current economic circumstances,” he suggested, given that women require their male relatives to temporarily leave work, or to employ a driver, in order to travel. The country is currently facing economic instability following the fall of oil prices by 51 percent last year.

Prince Alwaleed also equated the law banning women from driving to legislation preventing them from gaining an education or having an independent identity.

Many have been using the hashtag in order to call for a change in the law:

Driving is “haram” (forbidden by Islam) but going out with a driver is “halal” (permitted by Islam); Buying from a man is halal, but selling to a man is haram; being a (female) doctor is haram but having your wife medically examined by a man is also haram. This is contradictory.

Logically, a woman driving a car is better. It is more safe than depending on a foreigner. More than this, she and her family are more deserving of her salary than a driver or a visa merchant.

Women's rights are rarely off the agenda on Saudi Twitter, with a hashtag calling for the end to male guardianshp in the country trending on and off since August. Only today debate was raging on the topic of a Saudi cleric who called men who let their women study medicine "cuckolds".

However, other responses to the most recent hashtag offered an insight into the prevailing social attitudes which prevent legislation change:

No, the time has not come. Rather, the time has come for the return to God, and for adherance to the Islamic Sharia. Look around yourself and see the extent of temptation. Staying true to religion is like holding onto a blazing coal.

It seems that Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was right in April when he said of women’s driving that: “So far the society is not persuaded... but we stress that it is up to Saudi society.”

RA

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