Balance of Power: Women Take the Wheel as Saudis Look to Future

Saudi Arabia Lifts Ban on Women Drivers

The architect of Saudi Arabia’s modernization effort has implemented one of his boldest moves yet: Ending the country’s status as the only one in the world that bans women from driving.

There’s little doubt Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is behind the decision to get women behind the wheel. What’s less clear is how the cultural bomb will be received by a society that’s always had curbs on women and practices an austere version of Islam. Both cheers and jeers were heard in the streets of Riyadh last night.

Authorities have given themselves 10 months to implement the measure, no small task given it’ll flip transportation in the country on its head, from the types of vehicles sold to how they’re driven.

But with the era of oil coming to an end, Saudi rulers are plotting a different course — you can’t reboot an economy with half the workforce stuck at home and you won’t attract investments if you’re forever being held up as the benchmark for institutional oppression.

And while the move will be resisted by the conservative heartland, Prince Mohammed is betting that many of his subjects are hungry for change. The rest may not have a choice; it’s an absolute monarchy after all.

Saudi activist Manal Al Sharif drives her car in the UAE state of Dubai.
Photographer: Marwan Naamania/AFP/Getty Images

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