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.


Arab coalition working to protect region’s security, says spokesman

Coalition spokesman Col. Turki Al-Maliki at a press briefing. (SPA file photo)
Updated 19 March 2019
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Arab coalition working to protect region’s security, says spokesman

  • Houthis want to disturb peace, says coalition spokesman
  • Stockholm peace agreement under strain

RIYADH: The Arab coalition supporting the internationally recognized Yemeni government is committed to protecting regional and global security, a spokesman said Monday.

Coalition spokesman Col. Turki Al-Maliki was asked at a press briefing about Houthi militias threatening to target the capitals of Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

“This is their way to disturb peace,” Al-Maliki replied. “Previously the Houthis targeted Riyadh with a ballistic missile, violating all international laws by attacking a city that has more than 8 million civilians. We take all precautions to protect civilians and vital areas. The coalition works to protect regional and international security.”

Al-Maliki said Houthis had targeted Saudi border towns several times, the most recent incident taking place in Abha last Friday.

But the Saudi Royal Air Defense Force had shot down a drone that was targeting civilians, he added.

He said four Saudi nationals and an Indian expatriate were injured in the attack because of falling debris.

The drone wreckage showed the characteristics and specifications of Iranian manufacturing, he said, which proved Iran was continuing to smuggle arms to the militias.

He warned the Houthis to refrain from targeting civilians because the coalition, in line with international humanitarian law, had every right to counter such threats.

He said the coalition was making efforts to neutralize ballistic missiles and dismantle their capabilities, as the coalition’s joint command would not allow the militia to possess weapons that threatened civilian lives and peace.

Al-Maliki reiterated that the Houthis were targeting Yemeni civilians and continued to violate international laws. 

He also urged Yemenis to try their best to prevent children from being captured by Houthis, who were using them as human shields and child soldiers.

His comments came as the UN tried to salvage a peace deal that was seen as crucial for ending the country’s four-year war.

The Stockholm Agreement was signed by the Yemeni government and Houthi representatives last December.

The main points of the agreement were a prisoner exchange, steps toward a cease-fire in the city of Taiz, and a cease-fire agreement in the city of Hodeidah and its port, as well as ports in Salif and Ras Issa.

Militants triggered the conflict when they seized the capital Sanaa in 2014 and attempted to occupy large parts of the country. An Arab coalition intervened in support of the internationally recognized government in March 2015.

The World Health Organization estimates that nearly 10,000 people have been killed in Yemen since 2015.

Earlier this month US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that President Donald Trump’s administration opposed curbs on American assistance to the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

“The way to alleviate the Yemeni people’s suffering isn’t to prolong the conflict by handicapping our partners in the fight, but by giving the Saudi-led coalition the support needed to defeat the Iranian-backed rebels and ensure a just peace,” Pompeo said at a news conference in Washington.