Saudi denies it may ease ban on women drivers

Local media quotes head of king’s advisory council as saying claim it was to ease ban for women over 30 is misinformed.

Dozens of female activists have defied the driving ban and posted video clips of their acts on social media [Reuters]

Local media in Saudi Arabia have said a story published by the Associated Press news agency stating that the advisory council to Saudi Arabia’s king had recommended easing a ban on women driving in the country is a “fabrication”.

Media quoted Mohammed Abdullah Al-Muhanna, the head of the Shura council, as calling the report “misinformed” and clearly showing a “lack of authenticity”. 

Earlier on Saturday, AP reported that the council, whose recommendations are not obligatory on the government, had reportedly endorsed that women over the age of 30 would be allowed to drive with numerous restrictions, including a curfew.

AP said a council member, who had spoken on the condition of anonymity, had said that the recommendations were made in a secret, closed session held in the past month.

Under the suggestions, only women over 30 would be allowed to drive and they would need permission from a male relative, usually a husband or father, and if they lack those then a brother or son.

They would be allowed to drive from 7am to 8pm on Saturday through Wednesday and noon to 8pm on the weekend – Thursday and Friday.

The conditions also require that the woman driver wear conservative dress and no make-up, the official said.

Within cities, they could drive without a male relative in the car, but outside the cities, a male relative’s presence would be required.

Female activists

The council had also reportedly said that a “female traffic department” would have to be created to deal with female drivers if their cars broke down or other problems and to issue fines.

The 150-member Shura Council is appointed by the king, drawing on various sectors of society to act as the closest thing to a parliament in the conservative kingdom, though it has no legislative powers.

King Abdullah has appointed women to it for the first time, and there are now 30 female members.

The driving ban has long forced families to hire live-in drivers for women. Women who can not afford a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.

Female activists launched their latest campaign to defy the driving ban on October 26, when dozens of women drove around their neighbourhoods and posted video clips of themselves driving on social networking sites.

The campaign prompted authorities to issue a statement warning violators would be dealt with firmly. Saudi Arabia has no written law barring women from driving, only fatwas, or religious edicts, by senior clerics.

Source: News Agencies