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Women driving license a victory for Saudi society

Journalists deal with constant flow of news as unemotionally as they can in order to accurately deliver reports, write exciting stories or gain exclusive interviews.

This is what colleagues at Al-Arabiya.net do while providing extensive and distinguished coverage of events developing continuously. It could be hurricanes, nuclear tests, conflicts, terrorist operations, separatist demands and others.

However, Saudi King Salman’s historic decision to allow women to drive does not resemble any other. It differs a lot from other breaking news we cover. It is a huge and exceptional decision that represents victory for Saudi women following decades of deprivation. This decision altered the conditions of our profession a bit and allowed joy and happiness to be conveyed and shared.

Saudi women have suffered as a result of this ban for a long time and faced strangest situations as a result. They could not practice normal routine – amounting to the freedom of movement – and had to find a man to drive them to the market or hospital. They would buy a car with their own money but then give it to a driver although they were themselves more skilled.

OPINION: Much more than just allowing women to drive

In recent years, there have been horrible incidents of female teachers who became victims of accidents caused by reckless drivers. This happened because they couldn’t sit behind the steering wheel and go to their schools safe and sound.

The issue of women driving – which is normal and does not require a lot of analysis – became a controversial matter due to a bunch of extremists. They tried to do this despite the consensus that the issue has nothing to do with religion and are related to Saudi women’s progress, beginning with education.

The government intervened during the era of King Saud to ensure girls’ right to education and the day finally arrived when King Salman lifted the driving ban. The decision marked a victory for women and thus put this phase behind us. We can now devote ourselves to what is more important.

The objections of those who are against women driving conveyed a false and distorted image of Saudi women and depicted them as incompetent and unequal to men

Mamdouh AlMuhaini

Impact on society

The ban did not only affect women but also men and the entire society. It is psychologically and morally harmful that a woman exits the same ministry or mall as you and you go to your air-conditioned car while she has to stand in the burning sun to find a cab.

The objections of those who are against women driving conveyed a false and distorted image of Saudi women and depicted them as incompetent and unequal to men as if they do not deserve a simple right. They were seen either as pampered “queens” as some tried to market the ban as praise when in fact it is derogatory. What sort of strange and bleak queens are these when they cannot sit in the chair of a leader?

Also read: Sheikh Al-Manea: On explaining the basis for the decision allowing women to drive

The ban also conveyed a wrong image of the Saudi society considering it is against something that the entire world agrees on. This is not the case though as most of the Saudi society accepts the idea and many Saudi women in towns have driven their cars in deserts and rural areas for decades without raising anyone’s anger or objections.

However even when you express and explain this truth to a foreigner, he will remain skeptical, as if all Saudis hide a regressive streak in their character no matter how civilized they are.

When I was studying outside Saudi Arabia, Europeans and Americans would ask me whether I supported women’s driving. I used to tell them the question itself is an insult, even if unintentional, and I would walk away. However, I do not blame them. People build an image about a society based on the phenomena occurring in it.

Excuse to target

One of the ban’s major disadvantages was that it distorted Saudi Arabia’s image in countries around the world and the kingdom’s rivals and enemies used it as an excuse to target it on every occasion. Any report or interview about Saudi Arabia included background information about this ban.

It is so painful to see Iranian or Brotherhood mouthpieces, affiliated with Doha, exploiting this issue and distorting your country’s image on international television channels and during global conferences. One of the most important benefits of this decision is that it has disarmed Saudi Arabia’s enemies after they used this ban against it for years.

The decision was met with positive and celebratory reactions from across the world as world leaders and celebrities congratulated the Saudi society.

WATCH: How Saudi Arabia's UN envoy announced the women driving decree

The historic decision also brings major economic benefits. The most important ones are saving the cost of bringing drivers whose number exceeds 800,000. This is in addition to other advantages which are still not clear and which we may not many know about.

As I write this down, a wonderful story, narrated by a friend once, came to my mind. He told me that a group of women would go out every Friday and drive their cars crossing several kilometers until they reach the borders of a small province. They would sell butter, soured yogurt and other products they had after Friday prayers.

When they would finish, they would go to a supermarket and buy some grocery and candy for their children. Then they would head home racing against time to reach before the sun sets. I dedicate this great decision to these good women who can now drive their cars in safe paved roads instead of driving through long and rugged deserts.

This article is also available in Arabic.
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Mamdouh AlMuhaini is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News Channel’s digital platforms. He can be followed on Twitter @malmhuain.

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Last Update: Thursday, 28 September 2017 KSA 13:20 - GMT 10:20
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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