Meet the women who already drive in Saudi Arabia

Dr. Aala Abulfaraj, 37, drives at KAUST where traffic rules are very strict and a points-based system is used. (AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj)
Updated 22 June 2018
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Meet the women who already drive in Saudi Arabia

  • Driving is “one of the new life requirements in Saudi Arabia,” says Dr. Aala Abulfaraj, a research scientist at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology
  • Sara Al-Uraifi, who works in public relations at Aramco in Dhahran, cautions women drivers not to get too excited, saying the Kingdom is not yet ready for women to go on the road.

JEDDAH: Saudi women preparing to drive in the Kingdom for the first time on Sunday might be surprised to learn that some have taken to the road already.

At institutes such as King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) and Saudi Aramco, women have been issued driver’s permits by the special zone’s driving school. 

Dr. Aala Abulfaraj, 37, drives at KAUST, where she is a research scientist in molecular biology and immunology, and an assistant professor in King Abdul Aziz University’s bioscience department. 

Abulfaraj said the driving environment at KAUST is similar to that of European countries or the US.

“Everyone has to follow the rules and they are strict — and because most people there are cycling, walking or using golf carts, everyone has to take care, especially children because some kids cycle to school.”

KAUST uses a measuring system for violations, Abulfaraj explained. “The traffic rules are very serious. It’s a points-based system. For example, using your phone while driving is three points. If you don’t stop at the stop sign, it’s eight points. If you reach 19 points, they will take your driver’s license away for three months and you will be prohibited from even cycling.”

Safety is KAUST’s main priority, she said. “A traffic police officer and an officer from the safety department are present during the driving test,” she told Arab News. “The traffic police officer observes; even if you turned correctly, but it’s not safe, they won’t give you the permit.”

Abulfaraj said in the past when a woman’s only role was as a housewife, there was no need to drive. “But the number of employed women has increased significantly and now we’re equal to men in everything. We are independent, we are studying the same subjects as men, getting jobs in the same field — and driving is important.”

Driving is “one of the new life requirements in Saudi Arabia,” she said.

Abulfaraj advised younger women to pay attention to safety and avoid being distracted by the “exciting new opportunity.” 

“Driving is something that the whole world is doing; we were the only ones who weren’t allowed to. I know it’s exciting, but women have to remember that it’s a responsibility. Your life is in your hands.” 

Abulfaraj learned to drive while studying in the US from 2008 till 2011. “It was exciting. I’m a mother of two, so when I’m driving, I get scared because I have my daughters with me.

“Responsibility makes a person more careful,” she said. 

Gehan Saied Al-Abbasi, 50, an Egyptian freelance CAD engineer, also drives at KAUST.

Driving there is “peaceful and safe” with no traffic, crowds or rush hours, and the maximum speed limit is 60 km an hour,” she said.

“In KAUST, all people know their rights. They are fully aware of the driving laws. Everything is well organized. Stop signs are everywhere and crosswalks; security cars and cameras are everywhere.”

The engineer said she is pleased about the new decree allowing women to drive. “It’s a good decision. Women have the right to be independent and strong.”

Female drivers should be encouraged, Al-Abbasi said. “I want to tell them not to panic from any inconvenience in the street and to be confident — you can do it.” 

Al-Abbasi obtained her driver’s license in Egypt and is exchanging her Egyptian license for a Saudi one. 

“I used to drive in Egypt from 1986 until now,” she said. “It was a good experience. I feel independent.” 

Another special institute driver is 28-year-old Saudi Sara Al-Uraifi, who works in public relations at Aramco in Dhahran.

She praises Aramco’s safe driving environment. “Driving there is so peaceful. It is quiet, away from traffic or crazy, loud drivers. Small roads, no highways and low speed,” she told Arab News.

Al-Uraifi said Aramco’s traffic rules are also strict. “Any violation will affect the employee’s evaluation and future career.” 

Driving will empower women, Al-Uraifi said. “It is a start to a new approach in the Kingdom, giving women equal chances and treatment.” 

She advised women to be cautious. “Don’t get too excited and start driving from day one. Take it slowly. The Kingdom is not yet ready for women to go on the road. There are a lot of crazy drivers on the road that don’t follow the rules and their mentality won’t change immediately.” 

Al-Uraifi will exchange her Bahrain license for a Saudi one and plans to drive “at some point.”

“In the beginning I will start driving only in nearby areas, avoiding traffic and peak hours till things get stable,” she said.


Mexican delegation visits Saudi Arabia to promote trade and discuss investment

The Mexican ambassador further declared that his country, like Saudi Arabia, is one of the top 20 economies in the world and is eager to strengthen mechanisms of collaboration in different areas. (SPA)
Updated 17 November 2018
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Mexican delegation visits Saudi Arabia to promote trade and discuss investment

  • The visiting team expressed their desire to benefit from and contribute to the projects presented by the Kingdom’s Vision 2030

RIYADH: A trade delegation from Mexico called on the Saudi business community to strengthen trade partnerships with their counterparts in Mexico and participate in promising opportunities and investment projects in various areas, especially in the construction and infrastructure sectors.
“A delegation from the National Bank for Services and Public Works (BANOBRAS), the most important development bank in Mexico, visited Saudi Arabia to promote investment opportunities that will bring the countries closer together,” Mexican Ambassador Alfredo Miranda told Arab News on Friday.
Miranda accompanied Alejandro Blasco, head of investor relations at BANOBRAS, and Luis Ampudia, deputy head of investor relations, during the meeting at the Council of Saudi Chambers (CSC).
The Saudi delegation was made up of CSC Secretary-General Saud Al-Meshari; Vice Chairman and Managing Director of the Saudi Fund for Development Khalid S. Alkhudairy; and head of stakeholder management of the Public Investment Fund (PIF) Saad A. Alkroud.
During the meetings, the Mexican delegation shared the opportunities available in Mexico for identifying possible public-private partnerships and financing social infrastructure projects, and they discussed the potential of investment opportunities in Mexico as part of the PIF’s international diversified pool, said the envoy.
The visiting team expressed their desire to benefit from and contribute to the projects presented by the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.
The Mexican ambassador further declared that his country, like Saudi Arabia, is one of the top 20 economies in the world and is eager to strengthen mechanisms of collaboration in different areas, taking into account that Mexico’s GDP is $1.1 trillion, has a population of 129 million inhabitants, an inflation rate of 4 percent and very low unemployment of just 4 percent.
“I am sure both countries will continue to work together in order to have more Mexicans in Saudi Arabia and more Saudis in Mexico,” said Ambassador Miranda.