One woman’s quest for a driving license in Saudi Arabia

Noor Nugali pictured in her car on the anniversary Saudi women driving, June, 24, 2019. (Supplied)
Updated 24 June 2019

One woman’s quest for a driving license in Saudi Arabia

  • One year after women were allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, the ranks of aspiring female drivers just keep swelling
  • Women could begin to think of driving in Saudi Arabia only since Sept. 26, 2017, when a landmark royal decree was issued

RIYADH: No sooner had the royal decree of Sept. 26, 2017 lifting the ban on women driving been issued than excitement filled Saudi Arabia. Women began to gear up for the big day when they would get behind the wheel without breaking the law.
I remember waking up my two young sons on the day the decree was announced with the words: “Well, gentlemen. It looks like I’ll be getting to drive before you both.” They looked at once stunned and delighted.
The royal decree took effect on June 24, 2018. It has been one year since women in Saudi Arabia were first allowed to drive, and the ranks of aspiring female drivers just keep swelling.
I had been hearing horror stories about the Saudi Driving School (SDS), located in Princess Nourah University in Riyadh, so I decided to put on my journalist hat and find out the truth. What I saw was somewhat different.
On May 23, I signed up for the driving placement exam, which allows women with prior driving experience to skip the mandatory 30 hours of lessons and settle for 12 or 6 hours, depending on an evaluation by a driving examiner.
I had my exam scheduled a full month later, but I had heard of exceptions being made, so I asked the officer concerned to set up an earlier appointment. My request was considered: I was evaluated in two weeks’ time and advised to take 12 hours of driving lessons.
Men in Saudi Arabia know from birth they will be able to drive on the Kingdom’s roads one day. Women, on the other hand, could afford to think likewise only since 2017. The goal of the SDS, according to its operations supervisor, Aseel Al-Saleh, is to “give women the confidence to overcome the fear of being on the road.”
She added: “When you take the final exam, wear your seat belt, say Bismillah and drive as you would do on the streets and not as if it were an exam you have to pass. No examiner will fail you if you succeed. Our pass rate is 90 percent.”
Although it opened its doors only a year ago, the SDS has already issued 40,000 driving licenses. After complaints of long waiting periods, the administrative process has been streamlined. With the staff working 12-hour shifts six days a week, help and guidance are always at hand for Riyadh’s aspiring female drivers. “Our motto is to teach them how to drive safely,” said Nora Al-Dossary, supervisor of marketing and PR at SDS.
For mothers with little children, the SDS has a high-quality nursery with a playground and a toy driving track. Kids can spend time there learning about road safety and getting their own “driving license” while their mothers finish their lessons.
Amira Al-Maliky, a lecturer coordinator, recounts the case of an elderly man who came to the office gates to tell her he had one daughter and a son who was in jail. If the daughter could drive, life would be different for him and his family. Al-Maliky said seeing the young woman’s learning process through to the end became a personal mission for her.
“The joy we get from helping people is what keeps us going,” she said. “We are trying our best to help all female applicants gain the confidence and the skill to take to the country’s roads.”
Of course some customers do have grumbles. A few applicants express frustration that they have to take lessons even after a full year of practice. Also, as Al-Dossary said, there are applicants who express surprise they have to take the full 30, or 12, hours of lessons despite having driven for a year without a license - and without “following the rules of safe and correct driving.”
At the same time, “the SDS recognizes unique Saudi talents and we are proud to have them as part of our school,” she said. She was referring to two instructors who have taken part in international racing. One of them, Jawaher AlZamil, who is now an examiner, was a rally racer who competed in the VMAX race in London last March. “My dream is to see Saudi women in the highest of positions” Al-Zamil said.
On June 20, I passed my theory exam. Now I am looking forward to the practical lessons, clearing the tests and joining the growing ranks of Saudi women who have a license to drive.


Attacks on oil facilities in Kingdom threaten world economy: Saudi energy minister

Updated 15 September 2019

Attacks on oil facilities in Kingdom threaten world economy: Saudi energy minister

  • Saudi Aramco says no staff have been injured in attacks
  • The oil giant is working on restoring the lost quantities

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said drones that attacked Saudi Aramco installations had caused an interruption of an estimated 5.7 million barrels in crude supplies and threaten the world economy.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said as a result of the terrorist acts, oil production in Abqaiq and Khurais was knocked out temporarily and that estimates show that 50 percent of the company’s production had been interrupted.

Part of the decrease will be compensated to clients through reserves, Prince Abdulaziz said in a statement carried on the Saudi Press Agency.

The newly appointed minister confirmed there were no injuries to staff at the locations targeted, adding that the company is still assessing the resulting damage.

The attacks not only target the Kingdom’s vital installations, but also target the international oil supply and threaten its security, he said, and are a threat to the world economy. 

The blasts took place at 3:31am and 3:42am at the two locations, both in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, causing fires that were brought under control by emergency services.

The drone attacks, at the world’s largest oil processing plant at Abqaiq and at an oilfield in Khurais, highlight the importance of the international community to protect energy supply against “all terrorist sides that carry out, support and finance such cowardly disruptive acts,” the statement said.

He said that these blasts also knocked out the production of 2bn cubic feet of associated gas daily, used to produce 700,000 barrels of natural gas liquids, which will lead to an approximate 50 percent decrease of Ethane and natural gas liquids supply.

The statement said the company is currently working on restoring the lost quantities, and will present updated information within the next 48 hours.

World leaders condemned the attacks on Saudi Arabia on Saturday and those behind the terrorist acts. 

Donald Trump called Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to reassert his country's “readiness to cooperate with the Kingdom, by all means conducive to maintain its security and stability.”

The Crown Prince "underscored the Kingdom’s willingness and strength to thwart such a terrorist aggression and deal with its consequences,” SPA reported on Saturday.

The UAE said it “condemns this act of terrorism and sabotage and considers it as a new evidence of the terrorist groups’ attempts to undermine the security and stability of the region as a whole.”

“The Houthis must stop undermining Saudi Arabia’s security by threatening civilian areas and commercial infrastructure,” said the British government.

“The US strongly condemns today’s drone attacks. These attacks against critical infrastructure endanger civilians, are unacceptable, and sooner or later will result in innocent lives being lost,” said the US envoy in Riyadh John Abizaid.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was emphatic about the need to condemn Iranian aggression, specifically on Saudi Arabia, and the need to ensure the security of world energy supplies.

“Tehran is behind nearly 100 attacks on Saudi Arabia while Rouhani and Zarif pretend to engage in diplomacy. Amid all the calls for de-escalation, Iran has now launched an unprecedented attack on the world’s energy supply. There is no evidence the attacks came from Yemen,” he tweeted, “We call on all nations to publicly and unequivocally condemn Iran’s attacks. The United States will work with our partners and allies to ensure that energy markets remain well supplied and Iran is held accountable for its aggression”

The Houthis, who are backed by Iran, said they had carried out the attacks and that 10 drones had been used.