Saudi Arabia's $90 billion boost from women drivers

Hannah Rogers
June 25, 2018

Their stunning arrest has cast a pall on the social openings being pushed by 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is seen as the force behind reforms reshaping the kingdom.

Forty-seven-year-old Clinical Psychologist Samira al-Ghamdi is among those who have already received a driving licence.

Three of the women who'd taken part in that 1990 protest and several others who campaigned years later for the right to drive were arrested last month, just weeks before the kingdom lifted its ban.

According to Gulf News, the Los Angeles-based singer was over the moon when she heard of Saudi Arabia's decision to let women drive legally, starting June 24.

Women exuberantly took to the road at midnight, ending the world's last ban on female drivers.

They include Loujain al-Hathloul, a well-known figure in the campaign for women's driving rights.

Michele Mouton, a former rally driver and president of the FIA's commission, said in a statement she hoped Ms Al-Hamad's example would help pave the way for more Saudi women to get involved.

Al-Ajaji had a USA driver's license before obtaining a Saudi one and appeared comfortable at the wheel as she pulled up and parked.

Those with worldwide driving licences would be able to drive in the kingdom for up to a year, after which they would be required to apply for a Saudi licence, the department said.

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Women celebrate after they drove their cars in Al Khobar.

The move is expected to boost women's employment, and according to a Bloomberg estimate, add $90 billion to economic output by 2030.

"I'm speechless. I'm so excited it's actually happening", said Hessah al-Ajaji, who drove her family's Lexus in the capital, Riyadh, at the stroke of midnight when the ban came to an end.

The billionaire prince, who is one of King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud's nephews, set up a foundation which is described on its website as being dedicated to supporting women's empowerment among other things.

An interior ministry spokesman declined to specify how many licenses had been issued but said 120,000 women had applied, from an eligible pool of around 9 million.

The lifting of the ban, which for years drew worldwide condemnation and comparisons to the Taliban's rule in Afghanistan, has been welcomed by Western allies as proof of a new progressive trend in Saudi Arabia.

"It's a lovely day", businesswoman Samah al-Qusaibi said as she cruised around the eastern city of Khobar just after midnight, with police looking on.

The prince's reforms risk sparking dissent within the kingdom. Most were freed after reaching settlements with the government. "Thanks to King Salman for this achievement". This move was announced past year in September, as part of the Kingdom's effort to remove the country's reputation of repressing women's rights. That year she was held for more than 70 days.

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