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

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.


Cocoa bean harvest: A sweet opportunity for Saudi Arabia

Gebran Al-Maliki, owner of a cocoa plantation, says introducing cocoa will help reshape the agriculture sector. (Photos/Supplied)
Updated 30 November 2020

Cocoa bean harvest: A sweet opportunity for Saudi Arabia

  • The Jazan region is known for its lush, green lands and fertile soil that possesses the necessary ingredients to ensure the development of other crops that guarantee continuity and different harvest times for each type of plant harvested in the area

MAKKAH: In an unprecedented experience for the Kingdom, a harvest season of more than 200 cocoa shrubs began this year in Jazan following several years of planting the Filipino seedlings.

The foreign plant is a new experiment for the Kingdom as it plans on testing out the long-term success of planting the favored sweet treat.

Specialists in the region pointed out that the cocoa shrub resembles the famous coffee shrub found in the south region of the Kingdom, where a number of farmers have already begun to evaluate the experience and continue cultivating land to make room for more, while others were not so successful.

The supervisor of the Mountain Areas Development and Reconstruction Authority in Jazan, Eng. Bandar Al-Fifi, said: “The cocoa shrub is a tropical or subtropical shrub and is native to South America and East Asia. It was presented to the Mountain Regions Development and Reconstruction Authority a few years back, specifically to the agricultural research station.”

He added: “The cultivation process was carried out six years ago by bringing seeds and seedlings from the Philippines. The seeds were cultivated and seedlings were distributed to some interested farmers in the region.

“We in the station’s field have cocoa, banana, mango and guava trees, as well as many tropical and subtropical trees. The field is being used as a guarantor of seeds, in addition to conducting tests and real experiments in an area of 200 meters, in particular on 15 cocoa plants and the first cocoa shrub in Saudi Arabia.”

He told Arab News that it was difficult at first to encourage farmers to invest in the plant, as many were hesitant to introduce a plant not indigenous to the region in order to facilitate the establishment of manufacturing factories and grow a local market.

Al-Fifi said that in Ethiopia, companies buy crops from farmers and then start an integrated industrial process of sorting, cleaning, drying and roasting, because to complete the whole process is not economically viable for farmers alone.

“If every farmer owns 30 cocoa shrubs, this will be an additional source of income for their future,” he added.

The Jazan region is known for its lush, green lands and fertile soil that possesses the necessary ingredients to ensure the development of other crops that guarantee continuity and different harvest times for each type of plant harvested in the area. Rainfall is abundant, seasonal fluctuations in rainfall are scarce and humidity is high, ensuring that soil continues to retain the moisture it requires for harvests.

“In addition to the fact that the temperature gap between small and mature shrubs is not big, due to our proximity to the equator, Saudi Arabia is located below the tropical line, which creates environmental conditions that help the shrub grow,” said Al-Fifi.

Gebran Al-Maliki, one of the owners of a cocoa plantation in Jazan, told Arab News: “Adding cocoa to the Kingdom’s agricultural field is one of the innovative things in Saudi Arabia and it began to give good results that would broadly stimulate the development process, provide an agricultural model that can be trusted and improve experience in a country that supports its farmers and provides them with all the required capabilities.”

He received seeds and seedlings by the end of 2016 as an experiment in which everyone was granted support. “Some wanted to give this new experience a try, because it is similar to the coffee plant. It is an ordinary shrub, just like fruit and citrus trees, but it is a drought-tolerant shrub that is watered once a week.”

To successfully cultivate the fruit, Al-Maliki said that shrubs need shade when first planted in the ground as they are “quite finicky,” but that with the proper care and attention, a tree will flower at about three to four years of age and can grow up to two meters in height.

With up to 400 seeds, the product testing began on his farm after just four years.

“You can find 30 to 50 seeds inside a pod, which are later dried under the sun and ground to become a ready-to-use powder. Cocoa powder can be found in chocolate, oils and cosmetics, in addition to several other uses,” Al-Maliki said.

He said that the seed is very bitter and explained that the more bitter, the better the quality. He added that he has four shrubs, and what hindered the spreading process was waiting for the product quality test results, indicating that the fruit was tried and was found very successful.

The agricultural research station for the Development and Reconstruction of Agricultural Areas aim to reach 50 shrubs in the region to provide enough fruit to produce seeds and seedlings for farmers. Al-Fifi said that they aim to reach 400 seedlings per year that will be distributed, on top of seedlings grown by the region’s farmers themselves.