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The day Saudi women could drive

The day Saudi women could drive
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Updated 31 May 2020

The day Saudi women could drive

The day Saudi women could drive

The lifting of the ban was one of several reforms that improved gender equality

Summary

On June 24, 2018, Saudi women took their place behind the wheel, driving on the Kingdom’s roads legally for the first time. The historic day came about as part of a series of reforms under Vision 2030, announced in 2016 by then-Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It was followed by a royal decree on Sept. 26, 2017, lifting the ban on women driving.

The decision had a demonstrable effect on the daily lives of women and on the Kingdom’s economy. In 2020, it was one of the reforms that led to Saudi Arabia being recognized by the World Bank as the top reformer globally in the past year when it comes to female empowerment and gender equality.

DUBAI: This story could be called a tale of two countries. When I arrived in Jeddah from our Dubai office for my first visit to Saudi Arabia on June 20, 2018, I was not allowed to drive. And then, four days later, along with every other woman in the Kingdom, all of a sudden we could. Much like Cinderella in the fairy tale, our pumpkins turned into carriages at the stroke of midnight on June 24, 2018.

So much has changed since then that it seems like ancient history. The guardianship law, which required Saudi women to get a male guardian’s permission to travel, was rescinded in August last year, and foreign female travelers are no longer expected to wear abayas and headscarves. And in December, the Kingdom officially ended gender segregation in public places, although Saudi women and men had already begun to mingle.

This was all unthinkable at the time that the driving ban was lifted — the first major, visible sign that the Kingdom was serious about change. As my Saudi colleague Noor Nugali pointed out, it was a “mind-blowing” signal that it was headed “100 miles in the right direction.” 

So let us reverse, if you will, to the time when the Kingdom was the last country in the world where women could not drive. Arriving on a humid morning at Jeddah’s airport, I stepped off the plane in my abaya with a sense of excitement tempered by fear at what I might encounter as a solo foreign woman in the Kingdom. 

After a decade living in the UAE, I had heard stories from other women about their encounters with the Saudi religious police, so I wrapped my headscarf tightly and prepared for the worst.

Mistakenly joining the line for Umrah arrivals, I was approached by a customs officer who, after looking at my visa, asked me to have a seat while he sorted an issue by calling an Arabic speaker in our Jeddah newsroom. “This is it,” I thought. “I’m going to jail.” What happened next was a total surprise. He returned, offering me Arabic coffee and a chocolate heart before helping me through the gates. 

“Of all the places I have filed my column from, I never thought one of the most significant would be the passenger seat of my company car … Because the driver sitting next to me was one of my female colleagues at Arab News — and one of the first women to legally take the wheel after the end of a decades-long ban.”

From a page column by Editor in Chief Faisal J. Abbas in our special issue, June 24, 2018

The driver sent to pick me up told me I did not have to wear a headscarf, so I let it go around my shoulders, already feeling more relaxed. He brought me to the Jeddah Hilton, with a lobby that looks like a “Star Trek” spaceship, and escalators that curl around like spiral staircases. 

For the next few days, I made my trips to the Jeddah newsroom with Bakhsh, our ever-smiling company driver who insisted on carrying my bags, whenever he was available. But to those who claim the lifting of the driving ban was just a token gesture, I can tell you: It was anything but. Imagine getting through your day by relying on someone to pick you up at every point, then remember the freedom you felt when you got your license and the keys to your first car.

So when the clocks on our iPhones turned to 12:01 a.m. on June 24, it was not just a sign to start our engines. It was time for Saudi Arabia to leave this old way behind, and the unnecessary load that came with it.

At this time, I was already in the driver’s seat of our company car, wearing Saudi designer Moe Khoja’s driving jacket, embroidered with the date of this occasion. My boss Faisal J. Abbas, beside me in the passenger’s seat, had designated me to take him and my two female colleagues on this drive, because a Saudi woman in our newsroom had yet to get a license. It was not just a historic drive for me; for them, it was the first time they had been driven by a woman in the Kingdom.

Key Dates


  • 1

    A royal decree orders the lifting of the ban on women driving in the Kingdom. The date is set for June 24, 2018.

    Timeline Image Sept. 26, 2017


  • 2

    The first car showroom for women opens at a Jeddah shopping mall.

    Timeline Image Jan. 11, 2018


  • 3

    The first driving licenses are issued to 10 Saudi women in the Kingdom.

    Timeline Image June 4, 2018


  • 4

    Along with women being allowed to drive on the Kingdom’s roads for the first time, Aseel Al-Hamad becomes the first Saudi woman to drive a Formula 1 car in a symbolic lap around the French Grand Prix circuit at Le Castellet.

    Timeline Image June 24, 2018


  • 5

    Saudi racing driver Reema Juffali makes her Formula 4 British Championship debut at Brands Hatch in the UK.

    Timeline Image April 6, 2019

Off we drove that night in a big black SUV, rolling down our windows at stoplights and waving to surprised Saudis, who smiled and gave us their thumbs up. The real test was when we pulled up next to a police car at the next light. We waited in nervous silence, until the light turned green and we let go of our breaths, driving off without incident.

The next morning, as more Saudi women took to the roads, I approached the rental-car desk in my hotel lobby to ask about renting a car. The man told me it was not possible. “Oh yes it is,” I told him. “Haven’t you read the news?” 

I showed him Arab News’ special issue that day, wrapped in Malika Favre’s illustration of a Saudi woman driving, which went on to become an iconic image of that day. Sadly, it did not help my appeal. He called his supervisor, who told me I needed a Saudi license. 

Remarkably, after I wrote about this in Arab News, the chief operating officer of Budget Saudi Arabia contacted me to rectify the confusion. He invited me to visit their office on the Corniche, where I produced my international driver’s license and became the first foreign woman to rent a car in Saudi Arabia.

Much like Cinderella in the fairy tale, our pumpkins turned into carriages at the stroke of midnight on June 24, 2018.

Mo Gannon

As I climbed into the white Land Cruiser, people on the street stopped to take photos with their mobile phones. That night, when I took my ladies on a drive to Old Jeddah, we got the same reception from the crowded streets: Smiles and waves. And unlike most places in the world, male drivers courteously stopped to let us ahead of them in traffic.

We rolled down the windows, blasting the song Saudi singer Tamtam wrote for the occasion: “We know it’s our time… let go of past perceptions, tomorrow is mine. We got drive, pushing through the limits, we ride. We have dreams, and every day we’re making them real…”

I am glad we soaked up the celebrity attention while we had it, because as more Saudi women got their licenses, it has become commonplace to see women driving in the Kingdom. The initial objections raised to allowing women on the roads — that they would clog the streets with traffic or cause more accidents — now seem silly notions from a time long past.

Back at home, I often get asked what it is like to drive in the Kingdom. “Isn’t it scary?” people wonder. My answer to them now is: It is just like anywhere else. And that is exactly how it should be.

  • Mo Gannon is a senior editor in the Dubai bureau of Arab News. She was the first foreign woman to rent a car in Saudi Arabia.


France says a great deal still needs to be done to revive Iran nuclear deal

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France’s foreign ministry says a great deal still needs to be done to revive Iran nuclear deal in very short timeframe.

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’It’s all a lie’: hesitancy hampers vaccine drive in war-scarred Syrian area

’It’s all a lie’: hesitancy hampers vaccine drive in war-scarred Syrian area
Updated 23 min ago

’It’s all a lie’: hesitancy hampers vaccine drive in war-scarred Syrian area

’It’s all a lie’: hesitancy hampers vaccine drive in war-scarred Syrian area
  • Consignment of 54,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Idlib at April’s end, the first batch for opposition-held Syrian territory
  • The challenge in Idlib goes beyond doubts about vaccines as some question whether the virus itself is a threat

IDLIB: In northwest Syria, where health care is rudimentary and those displaced by war are packed into squalid camps, the arrival of vaccines to fight COVID-19 should have been cause for relief.
Instead, a UN-backed vaccination campaign has met with suspicion and mistrust by an exhausted population, who feel betrayed by their government and abandoned by the international community after a decade of conflict that ruined their lives.
“It’s all a lie, even if the dose is for free I wouldn’t take it,” said Jassem Al-Ali, who fled his home in the south of Idlib province and now lives in Teh camp, one of many in a region controlled by opponents of the Damascus government.
Youssef Ramadan, another camp resident who lived under bombardment for years, echoed the doubts. “Will we be like sheep who trust the herder until they are slaughtered?” he asked.
A consignment of 54,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Idlib at the end of April, the first batch for opposition-held Syrian territory, delivered through the global vaccine-sharing platform COVAX. Inoculations started on May 1.
“There is a large amount of hesitancy and what made it worse is everything in the media continuously about AstraZeneca and blood clots,” Yasser Naguib, a doctor who heads a local vaccine team working in opposition-held areas, told Reuters.
Similar concerns about the coronavirus vaccine have slowed the rollout in Europe and elsewhere amid worries about rare cases of blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca shot.
Most governments have said benefits far outweigh the risks, although some have restricted it to certain age groups. But the challenge in Idlib goes beyond doubts about vaccines. Some question whether the virus itself is a threat.
“If there really was coronavirus in Idlib you would hear about tens of thousands of people getting it,” said 25-year-old Somar Youssef, who fled his home in Idlib’s rural Maara region.
Naguib said it was challenging to convince people fasting during Ramadan to take a shot when they can’t take oral medication for any side effects, such as a fever. Eid Al-Fitr, marking the end of the Muslim month, starts this week.
“We are optimistic that after Eid it will be better,” he said, adding that a 55-strong team was working to raise awareness about virus risks and vaccine benefits.
At the same time as doses from COVAX landed in Idlib, 200,000 shots arrived in Damascus, part of the World Health Organization campaign to inoculate about 20 percent of Syria’s population, or 5 million people across the nation, this year.
Officials have not given any indication about take up in government-held areas, where Damascus also aims to use vaccines from Russia, the government’s military ally, and China.
In Idlib, Naguib said 6,070 people out of around 40,000 health care and humanitarian workers on a priority list had been vaccinated by May 9. But even some health care workers are wary.
A Reuters witness saw just seven out of 30 medical workers receiving vaccines on the first day of a campaign at one Idlib medical center. Initially, only three had volunteered.
“As a director of the kidney dialysis unit, I was the first one to get the vaccine and I wanted to encourage the rest, who were scared because of all the rumors about it,” said Taher Abdelbaki, a doctor at another clinic, the Ibn Sina medical center.
By the end of 2021, two more COVAX vaccine batches are expected to arrive in Idlib to inoculate about 850,000 people in a region of about 3.5 million people, a target that leaves the region’s vaccination teams with much work to do.
“We will not be their lab rats here in the north,” said Abdelsalam Youssef, a community leader in Teh camp.


Joshua set to fight Fury in Saudi Arabia in August, says promoter Eddie Hearn

The all-British fight between Anthony Joshua (L) and Tyson Fury for the undisputed world heavyweight title will take place in Saudi Arabia, according to promoter Eddie Hearn. (AFP/File Photos)
The all-British fight between Anthony Joshua (L) and Tyson Fury for the undisputed world heavyweight title will take place in Saudi Arabia, according to promoter Eddie Hearn. (AFP/File Photos)
Updated 21 min 25 sec ago

Joshua set to fight Fury in Saudi Arabia in August, says promoter Eddie Hearn

The all-British fight between Anthony Joshua (L) and Tyson Fury for the undisputed world heavyweight title will take place in Saudi Arabia, according to promoter Eddie Hearn. (AFP/File Photos)
  • Hearn, who represents Joshua, said the fight is likely to take place on Aug. 7 or Aug. 14

LONDON: The all-British fight between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury for the undisputed world heavyweight title will take place in Saudi Arabia, promoter Eddie Hearn said on Tuesday.

Hearn, who represents Joshua, said the fight is likely to take place on Aug. 7 or Aug. 14. He said Aug. 14 is his preferred date because the Olympic Games in Tokyo will have finished, making the Joshua-Fury fight a bigger “global spectacle.”

“It’s a very bad secret that the fight is happening in Saudi Arabia,” Hearn told British broadcaster Sky Sports. “To be honest with you, I don’t mind giving you that information.”

Fury’s US promoter, Bob Arum, has previously said Saudi Arabia would be the location of the fight.

Hearn has yet to respond to AP requests to confirm the details of the fight.

READ MORE

On a rainy night in Diriyah in 2019, Anthony Joshua regained his world heavyweight titles after a unanimous points decision from the judges over Andy Ruiz Jr in an epic night of boxing in Saudi Arabia. Read how it happened here.

It would be Joshua’s second fight in the kingdom. He reclaimed his WBA, IBF and WBO belts from Andy Ruiz there in December 2019.

Joshua’s only fight since saw him retain his titles by knocking out Kubrat Pulev in December.

Fury hasn’t fought since beating Deontay Wilder in February last year to capture the WBC title.

Fury and Joshua have called each other out over Twitter over the last 24 hours, both urging the other to finalize terms for the fight.

Hearn said the “deal is done” but there was frustration on both sides that the fight had not been officially announced.

“From our perspective and AJ’s perspective, we’re ready to go,” he said. “From Tyson Fury’s perspective, they’ve got a couple of lawyers across it from their point.

“We have to nail this,” Hearn added, “and I’m not going to stop until I nail it, and everyone has just got to move forward collectively. We’re ready to go from our side. We’re not far away from their side and it is inevitable.”


Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program

Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program
Updated 15 min 20 sec ago

Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program

Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program
  • Priority for age groups and medical vulnerability waived for permanent residents of nearly 100 islands
  • Islanders make up around 1.5 million of Greece’s population of 10.7 million

NAXOS, Greece: A vaccination program for Greek islands is being accelerated to cover all local residents by the end of June, the government announced Tuesday ahead of the launch of the tourism season.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said a nationwide priority system for age groups and medical vulnerability was being waived for permanent residents of nearly 100 islands.
“This initiative is aimed at supporting local island communities and their economy and it also aspires to send a positive overall message for our tourism,” Mitsotakis said.
Greece is fighting to revive its key tourism sector that was battered by the pandemic in 2020 but its vaccination rates remain below the European Union average and the country has only recently stabilized a surge in cases.
Islanders make up around 1.5 million of Greece’s population of 10.7 million. Many holiday islands have a year-round population of under 10,000, while Crete has the largest with more than 600,000 residents, followed by Evia, Rhodes, Corfu, Lesbos, and Chios. The tourism season will officially start Friday.


Saudi Arabia includes fines in COVID-19 regulations

Saudi Arabia includes fines in COVID-19 regulations
Updated 48 min 33 sec ago

Saudi Arabia includes fines in COVID-19 regulations

Saudi Arabia includes fines in COVID-19 regulations

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday a series of fines to be enforced against individuals and businesses which do not comply with COVID-19 regulations and social distancing, state news agency SPA reported.
The fines vary between 10,000 riyals ($2,666) and 50,000 riyals for individuals while businesses will have to pay between 10,000 and 100,000 riyals.
Recidivist business owners will be prosecuted, SPA added.
($1 = 3.7502 riyals)