Saudi Arabia could soon bow to growing pressure by local women and allow them to drive cars in a turnaround in its long-standing policy of banning females to sit behind the wheel, according to a prominent Saudi Muslim scholar.
Incidents over the past few weeks involving women seen driving cars and plans to launch a fresh driving campaign on October 26 indicate the conservative Gulf Kingdom is about to tear down social barriers and permit women to drive, said Sheikh Adel Kalbani, former Imam (chief ) of the Grand Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest shrines.
“There have been incidents recently involving several women caught driving cars although they are not allowed to do so,” he said on his Twitter page.
“The barrier of prohibition appears to be crumbling and the winds of allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia are blowing and getting stronger. Shortly this barrier will collapse.”
Kalbani’s comments coincided with growing reports of local women driving cars through in different areas of the Kingdom in defiance of the ban.
One newspaper said a woman was seen driving through Riyadh’s streets but police made no move to stop her.
Another incident involved a Saudi teaching his mother how to drive a car through the streets of the central province of Al Qasseem this week.
A YouTube film published in the local press showed the man drove his car through local streets for a while before giving the wheel to his mother, saying he was teaching her driving “in anticipation of a decision to allow women in Saudi Arabia to drive cars”.
Saudi women are expected to take to the streets and drive cars on October 26 in fresh campaign called by a female activist to push authorities to drop the ban.
In a brief message on her Facebook page last month, Lujein Al Hadoul urged women to demonstrate their will to end the ban on their driving and described men who are opposed to women driving cars as “oppressors”.
“This is a new campaign to press for our right to drive cars.
“I call on all Saudi women to participate in previous campaigns to join us and drive cars on October 26,” she said.
“That day is our new chance to drive cars. As for those men who try to stop women from driving, they are oppressors because there is no religion or law banning this.”
Saudi women defied the ban in 2011 and campaigned for a decision to allow women to drive.
Many of them took to the street and drove cars, triggering anger among Saudi hardliners who are strongly opposed to female driving.
Saudi female activist Manal Al Sharif, one of the campaign leaders in 2011, hit headlines after she was briefly jailed when she was caught driving.
In recent comments, Al Sharif said Saudi women must push ahead with their “struggle” to achieve all their rights not only driving cars.
“The question should not be whether women will be allowed because the Saudi government will never give away rights just like that,” she said.
“The question should be: Will women take the right to drive. My answer is yes, that right and bigger… if they understand what led to losing their rights and stopped accepting their rights to being used by the system to please certain group of people in Saudi Arabia and here I mean religious establishment.
“It's up to women not them. Women don't realise that yet. Once they do, they will win the struggle and set their own rules that everyone shall respect.”
Saudi officials say it is up to Kingdom Abdullah to issue a decision ending the ban, which they attribute to social barriers in the country of 29 million people.