Saudi Arabia has announced that it would let women acquire a driving license, putting an end to a policy that tarnished the kingdom’s international reputation and became a rallying point for activists over the repression of women.
The order by Saudi King Salman will take effect next June, and will free Saudi officials abroad from the difficult task of justifying the ban. Clerics in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, justified the ban by citing several Sharia rules.
In this deeply patriarchal society, Saudi Arabia, ruled by a theocracy, was long consumed by debates over why women should not be allowed to drive. In the past, several female activists defied the regime by driving in public and were arrested. But the Saudi government never relented, bruising its image abroad.
The ban on women driving was the main argument activists brought up to criticize the U.S. alliance with Saudi Arabia. It became a symbol for the repression of women in the kingdom and epitomized a society that denies even such a basic freedom as driving.