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

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.


G20 media committee holds first press conference in Riyadh

Updated 17 February 2020

G20 media committee holds first press conference in Riyadh

  • There will be coverage of over 135 meetings and conferences, to which end we will be creating an international media center that can accommodate up to 10,000 journalists

RIYADH: The media committee of the G20 Summit held its introductory press conference on Sunday afternoon at the headquarters of the Saudi Press Agency in Riyadh.

Both local and foreign media were invited to view the year’s schedule of events, ask the media committee questions and understand the objectives of the summit.
“Thanks to the direction of King Salman and constant support from the crown prince, the Kingdom has prepared a full schedule that will guarantee the success of this historic event,” said Minister of Media Turki Al-Shabanah.
He talked about the facilities that would be made available to the members of the press throughout the year, including an international media center that would serve as the central hub for all media activities in the summit.
“The media committee has prepared a full strategic plan to provide members of both foreign and local press with all of the resources they will need to cover the G20. There will be coverage of over 135 meetings and conferences, to which end we will be creating an international media center that can accommodate up to 10,000 journalists,” he said.
He added that media facilities would be available to accredited journalists and in multiple languages for journalists across the world.
Fahd Al-Mubarak, minister of state and Saudi Arabia’s G20 sherpa, said: “Having such a large number of media professionals really underscores the importance of the role the Kingdom plays in leading the 2020 G20 Summit.”
Al-Mubarak highlighted some of the challenges the summit was facing this year, notably the coronavirus, which he said that they were actively discussing and trying to overcome.
Fahd Al-Tunisi, adviser at the royal court and secretary-general of the Saudi Secretariat for the G20, highlighted the importance of the media in getting Saudi Arabia’s messages across.
Due to the G20’s own rules and regulations, not all of the G20 meetings and conferences will be open for members of the media to attend. However, Al-Tunisi told reporters that all of the necessary resources would be made available to them online and at the international media center, and that more press conferences would be held as necessary to bring them up to speed.