Driving Saudi Society Forward

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- Gabriella Paiella (@GMPaiella) September 26, 2017I agree it's a encouraging sign, but banning women from driving ranks about 8,349th on Saudi Arabia's list of human rights violations.

Al-Sharif, 38, has long campaigned for women's rights in Saudi Arabia and this year published a memoir "Daring To Drive", which became a worldwide bestseller. But the rule change adds nearly 9 million potential drivers, including 2.7 million resident non-Saudi women, Merrill Lynch has calculated.

The government has sought to downplay their influence, saying that most senior clerics in the kingdom "agree that Islam does not ban women from driving".

Letting women drive could eventually raise pressure to remove other obstacles to their employment, such as a male guardianship system that requires women to have a male relative's approval for most decisions on education, employment, marriage, travel plans and even medical treatment.

The Somali president, accompanied by government officials, also held meetings with the Saudi crown prince Mohamed Bin Salman in Jeddah and they discussed issues including economic partnership among others.

Midrange brands dominate the Saudi market, with Toyota, Hyundai-Kia and Nissan together commanding a 71 percent share of sales. There in that Kingdom, in the back seat, I would hold on for dear life until I found my fantastic Egyptian Christian driver, Zacchariah, who would observe the sedate 40mph speed that I felt comfortable in while the rest of the country drove routinely above 80mph and sometimes over 100 miles per hour.

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Many younger Saudis regard Crown Prince Mohammed's ascent as evidence their generation is taking a central place in running a country whose patriarchal traditions have for decades made power the province of the old and blocked women's progress. Hush money also comes in the form of subsidized jobs, which in turn allow men to afford to restrict the movement of women: About 1.4 million foreigners are now employed as household drivers.

But aside from religious hardliners, women also face opposition from a conservative society that is unaccustomed - or fundamentally opposed - to women drivers.

Amnesty International welcomed the decree as "long overdue" but said there was still a range of discriminatory laws and practices that needed to be overturned.

Previously, women in the Gulf nation could be arrested for driving.

Women make up only about 20 percent of Saudi workers, one of the lowest proportions in the world.

"It is incredible", said Fawziah al-Bakr, a Saudi university professor who was among 47 women who participated in the kingdom's first protest against the ban - in 1990.

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