Saudi women take the wheel, test-driving a new freedom

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A Saudi woman leaves a car during a driving training at a university in Jeddah. (Reuters)
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A Saudi woman has a driving lesson in Jeddah. Saudi Arabia’s historic decision in September 2017 to allow women to drive from June has been cheered inside the kingdom and abroad. (AFP)
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A Saudi woman receives a driving lesson from an Italian instructor in Jeddah. Saudi Arabia’s historic decision in September 2017 to allow women to drive from June has been cheered inside the kingdom and abroad. (AFP)
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A Saudi woman awaits her Italian driving instructor during a lesson in Jeddah. Saudi Arabia’s historic decision in September 2017 to allow women to drive from June has been cheered inside the kingdom and abroad. (AFP)
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A woman sits in a car during a training at a university in Jeddah. (AN photo)
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A Saudi woman gestures as she sits in a car during a driving training at a university in Jeddah. (Reuters)
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A Saudi woman has a driving lesson in Jeddah. Saudi Arabia’s historic decision in September 2017 to allow women to drive from June has been cheered inside the kingdom and abroad. (AFP)
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A Saudi woman awaits her Italian driving instructor during a lesson in Jeddah. Saudi Arabia’s historic decision in September 2017 to allow women to drive from June has been cheered inside the kingdom and abroad. (AFP)
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Participants of a driver training session pose for a group photo. (AN photo)
Updated 08 March 2018
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Saudi women take the wheel, test-driving a new freedom

JEDDAH: Fatima Salem giggled with hesitation when it was her turn to drive through a small car park lined with bright orange cones and arrows. Like millions of Saudi women, she will apply for a driver’s license in June — but first she has to learn how to drive.
“I’m a little nervous,” the 30-year-old master’s student said.
Francesca Pardini, an Italian former racing driver, helped to  calm her nerves, reminding Salem to check the mirrors and buckle up. Once on the road, Pardini reached over to help straighten out the wheel after a left turn, and they both lurched forward when Salem stepped on the brakes before a stop sign.
Effat University in Jeddah organized the sessions for students to learn the basics of how to operate a car. For most of the young women, the hour-long training, sponsored by Ford Motor, is the first time they have sat in the driver’s seat. Universities across Saudi Arabia are expected to offer women full driving courses once the rules and guidelines from the government are announced.
“I felt out of place. I’ve never sat on that side of the car. Usually, I always sit in the back or on the right side, but it felt good. You feel, like, in control,” said Sara Ghouth, 18. “I want to drive a car. I want to be independent.”
Car companies see the lifting of the ban on women driving in June as an opportunity to promote their brands and increase sales.
Ford’s Driving Skills for Life program, a one-time session that focuses on safety, has been taught around the world, and to male drivers in Saudi Arabia, but this is the first time the company has taught women-only groups.
“With these girls, they’re like an empty book,” Pardini, the Italian trainer with Ford, told The Associated Press. “They really want to learn.”
Before the training began this week, Ford conducted surveys with women across Saudi Arabia to better understand what they are looking for in a car and how to market their brand to the new drivers.
“The first thing we don’t want to do is be patronizing. This isn’t about lip gloss and nail polish and things like that. These are educated women,” said Crystal Worthem, a marketing manager with Ford.
Worthem said Ford “absolutely” expects a lift in sales as Saudi women start driving this summer. She says some women are already purchasing cars for when the ban is lifted, while others own the cars they are driven around in.
“Women have always been in our showrooms, but now women are actively shopping for themselves, which is exciting,” she said. “It’s a car that they can drive and not a car that they’ll be riding in.”
Amal Al-Jihani, 23, an architecture student, said her biggest supporter encouraging her to drive is her father, who has promised to give her one of the family’s used cars when she’s ready for the road. Her 16-year-old brother already drives.
“My mom is refusing the idea of us driving. She says it’s dangerous and she’ll let us drive when we’re married,” Al-Jihani said, laughing. “My dad tells her she’ll relax when she sees everyone else driving.
Joanna Al-Fattani, 19, relies on services such as Uber to go most places. To get to and from college, she has two different drivers. She said a lot of women are nervous about the idea of driving alongside men on the roads, but she’s looking forward to the freedom.
“It’s such an important announcement. Everybody needed this. Now is the right time to do it,” she said.
The President of Effat University, Dr. Haifa Jamal Al-Lail, said women driving would offer them more opportunities to join the workforce. “It’s not a simple societal change,” she said. “It’s time to take the wheel and drive to our heart’s content.
“Effat University always leads things and gives women opportunities that have never been offered to them before. This initiative is one of those opportunities, we’re offering it gradually.
“We’re making sure that the students, staff, and faculty learn the basics before going into real driving.”


Cirque du Soleil prepares ground-breaking show in King Fahd Stadium

Updated 28 min 35 sec ago
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Cirque du Soleil prepares ground-breaking show in King Fahd Stadium

Arab News JEDDAH: A joint press conference between the MBC Group, the General Entertainment Authority, and Cirque du Soleil was held at King Fahd Stadium on Thursday afternoon to answer media questions and give some details about Cirque du Soleil’s upcoming special performance, part of Saudi Arabia’s 88th National Day celebrations. The show is slated to be one of the biggest performed by the Cirque and their first in Saudi Arabia. It is a one-night-only, exclusive event, designed especially for this occasion.
Daniel Fortin, vice president of Creation at Cirque du Soleil, teased the audience with a few details of the upcoming show. “With a cast and crew of over 300, this is one of the biggest shows we’ve ever done,” he said.
“Without giving too much of the plot away, the story is centered around the sun, and takes place from sunset to sunrise. Everything from the costumes to the stage props was created as a homage to Saudi culture. You’ll see a lot of Bedouin influences in the staging and in the music. We drew inspiration from a variety of sources, such as traditional Bedouin tents, desert scenery, even the stadium itself.”
The show has been in development for six months, and the cast and crew have been preparing for the show at the King Fahd International Stadium since the beginning of August.
The show will contain new technology, and 16 unprecedented acrobatic acts. However, Fortin refused to share too many details. “You’ll just have to see what we have planned at the show.” He said. “But I think you will be impressed. We’re doing things we’ve never done before.”
Tickets to the show sold out in less than 48 hours after their release; an incredible feat as the show has allocated more than 27,000 seats for the performance. Abdulrahman Al Khalifa, spokesperson for the General Entertainment Authority, was pleased— but not entirely surprised— by the public’s reaction to news of the show. “We felt that variety in the types of events we brought to Saudi Arabia was important,” he said, “and we conducted a number of research workshops to determine what sort of events would be well-received by the public. Cirque du Soleil was mentioned frequently in our research, so we’re very happy to have had the opportunity to bring them here.”
MBC head of events Omar Al Radi also expects a big response to the televising of the show, which he estimates will break records. “We’re broadcasting the show live on both our local and international channels, such as those in Europe and in America.” he said.
“We’re expecting over 200 million views. Probably record-breaking numbers. MBC is proud to have been part of bringing this historic event to Saudi Arabia, and we can’t wait for you to see it.”