Women in Saudi Arabia flocked to the roads Sunday immediately after midnight to celebrate the end of the country's ban on female drivers, which King Salman ordered in September at the behest of his chosen heir, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. MbS, as he's widely known, is pushing to modernize the Kingdom in a bid to help diversify its economy away from the oil industry.
"It is our right and finally we took it. It is only a matter of time for the society to accept it, generally," said Samira al-Ghamdi, a 47-year-old psychologist from Jeddah, as she drove herself to work. She was one of a small group of women who had managed to secure a license beforehand.
While some pro-Saudi media outlets have argued that the lifting of the driving ban is part of a broader shift away from human rights abuses, as Reuters points out, it has also been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, including against some of the activists who had campaigned for it. Meanwhile, concerns that women drivers might face harassment prompted the passage of a new anti-harassment law last month. The police reported no incidents during the first hours after the ban ended. In the coming months, the Interior Ministry plans to hire female traffic police.
In the meantime, MbS will be able to take credit for the economic windfall, as women are expected to drive up demand for cars and auto insurance, while the economy benefits from an increase in productivity as more women enter the workforce. Saudi families are also expected to save billions of dollars on chauffers, though some women have said they don't plan to drive and prefer to be chauffered from place to place.
Women posted videos of them driving, many of which included western pop music playing in the background.
Some traffic police handed out flowers to female drivers.