Women driving in KSA: A huge milestone not a baby step

In September 2017, a royal decree announced the end of a decades-long ban on women driving (AN photo by Huda Bashatah)
Updated 03 July 2018
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Women driving in KSA: A huge milestone not a baby step

  • The arrival of women drivers could lift Saudi car sales by 15-20 percent annually
  • Carmakers joined governments in welcoming the order by Saudi Arabia's King Salman that new rules allowing women to drive

JEDDAH: “When pigs fly,” was a frequent expression when I was growing up in Saudi Arabia, applied to things that were very unlikely to happen.
One such thing was women driving. Yet on Sept. 26, 2017, pigs grew wings as the Saudi Ambassador to the UN, Abdullah Al-Mouallimi, announced “the important first step” to the world just a few minutes after the royal decree was announced.
On June 24, I heard the pigs exultantly clapping their little wings!
Even though I won’t be getting my driver’s license until August, the thrill and relief I felt seeing all these women arguing on Twitter about whether to drive or not, cannot be put into words. It is not a matter of driving, but a matter of choice and deciding how to live your life.
June 24 was not just another day to Saudis. Just a week ago, but already it feels like a long time since our lives as women changed forever. At 11:50 p.m., we wanted to do two things: Close the newspaper pages and make sure everything was perfectly in place before we hit the streets as soon as the clock struck midnight.
Saudi women, and men alike, hit the streets in major cities to mark the day as soon as the momentous royal decree came into force, either behind the wheel or in the passenger seat, waving at female first-timers.
On our first ride, we encountered overwhelming support. Although not behind the wheel that day, I was being driven by a female driver for the first time. Our senior editor Mo Gannon was at the wheel, excited to have the honor of driving Arab News women around the beautiful coastal city of Jeddah. Editor in Chief Faisal J. Abbas was gladly sitting in the passenger seat.
The Dubai-based Canadian editor’s first visit to Saudi Arabia was marked by milestones: Not only was she among the first women to drive in the Kingdom, but she was the first foreign woman to rent a car from Budget Saudi Arabia.
“Let’s go on an all-women road trip,” she declared after she got the keys to the Land Cruiser. From the passenger seat, Arab News photographer Huda Bashatah documented the trip with her camera, while reporter Aseel Bashraheel, in the backseat, navigated as we made our way through Jeddah’s busiest area, the south.
Old Jeddah was the perfect place to show off our traditional side to our foreign visitor, thirsting for a dose of culture away from skyscrapers, busy malls and fancy neighborhoods. The tantalizing aroma of roasted peanuts and fresh Turkish coffee filled the narrow alleys of Al-Balad, a soothing aroma evoking the good old days.
Our trip ended at the Jeddah Hilton. “I hope your turn comes and you get to drive your own cars soon,” said one of the security guards, in a Bedouin accent, smiling and waving at us as we passed by the hotel’s main gate. It was refreshing to hear a Saudi man showing his support to his countrywomen.
“Inshallah, we will,” replied Huda.
Social media has been abuzz in the past couple of days with women and men posting videos.
One Saudi man shared a video of his wife driving him to work, while Sahar Nasief, a lecturer at King Abdul Aziz University and women’s rights activist, posted a clip of her filling her car at the gas station for the first time.
“First gas-filling in Jeddah,” she announced. Such spontaneous moments mean the world to these women.
“Welcome to the 21st century,” was among the most repeated comments I encountered on Twitter. I remember an inspiring video my father shared on WhatsApp about people’s different time zones. I would like to tell those keyboard warriors: We are not late. We are not early. We are very much on time, and in our time zone!
While I am not attempting to speak on behalf of more than 30 million Saudis here, but living in the Kingdom for almost 27 years has shown me that we are tired of people lecturing us about how we should behave in order to join the ranks of the first world.
To some these incidents may seem like baby steps, but they are huge milestones to citizens and residents of the country.
So, dear world, please fasten your seatbelts and take the back seat while we drive the wheel of change our own way.


Prince Sultan appoints Majed Al-Sheddi as assistant president of SCTH

Updated 53 min 59 sec ago
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Prince Sultan appoints Majed Al-Sheddi as assistant president of SCTH

  • Al-Sheddi thanked the prince for the appointment, considering it a new way to serve both the country and its citizens
  • Al-Sheddi holds two masters’ degrees in public relations and training and education techniques with a focus on marketing from Marshall University in West Virginia

JEDDAH: Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH), has appointed Majed Al-Sheddi as the commission’s assistant president on Tuesday.
Al-Sheddi thanked the prince for the appointment, considering it a new way to serve both the country and its citizens based on what he has learned from Prince Sultan: citizens come first and serving them is an honor for every official.
He stated that the new mission will allow him to serve in more comprehensive areas, affirming the national identity and advancing in the national economic project SCTH has undertaken.
He expressed his pride in Prince Sultan’s confidence in him. He affirmed that the prince is an exceptional teacher in administration, leadership and values from which he has benefited for more than 15 years.
The new assistant president prayed to meet the prince’s high expectations and contribute to the course of growth and development based on Saudi Arabia’s deeply rooted values.
He holds two masters’ degrees in public relations and training and education techniques with a focus on marketing from Marshall University in West Virginia, US.
Before joining the commission, he was a member of the training body at the Institute of Public Administration, then SCTH’s director general of media relations, supervising organizing committees for the commission’s events.