Saudi Arabia Issues Country’s First Driver’s Licenses to Women

Saudi Arabia has began issuing driving licenses for women for the first time in decades.

Driving schools are also being set up across the kingdom with some female instructors who learned to drive in other countries.

Saudi Arabia is the only nation in the world that does not permit women to drive.

The prosecutor's statement said that eight had been temporarily released, while five men and four women remain under arrest.

But rights groups in the kingdom have campaigned for years to allow women to drive, and some women have been imprisoned for defying the rule.

The move, which follows a government crackdown on women activists, is part of a much-publicised liberalisation drive launched by powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as he seeks to modernise the petro-state. Women have been required to get the permission of a male guardian for nearly every activity.

This development follows reports indicating Saudi Arabia arrested 17 activists for allegedly protesting the Kingdom's restrictive driving laws.

On Monday, the government took another step by issuing driver's licenses to 10 women in exchange for their foreign licenses. Rights groups have condemned the kingdom's apparently paradoxical actions.

SPA said authorities started swapping global licences for Saudi ones in multiple locations across the kingdom, with women applicants made to undergo a "practical test".

They now face a range of charges, including communicating with people and organisations hostile to the kingdom and providing financial and moral support to hostile elements overseas.

But the kingdom faces steep economic challenges as well as a burgeoning young population that, with access to the world through the internet, sees women in neighbouring Muslim countries driving freely.

About 2,000 licences are expected to be issued for women next week, according to a statement by the ministry of information.

"Because these women are so Western and liberal, and they are being feted in the West. they help give meat to that narrative with Saudi conservative public opinion", Shihabi said.

"Saudi Arabia's allies - in particular the US, UK and France - must push Saudi Arabian authorities to end their targeted repression of human rights activists in the country".

  • Tracy Klein