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Midnight cheers and disbelief as Saudi Arabia ends ban on women driving

Saudi Arabia women are officially allowed to get behind the wheel, after a decades-old driving ban was lifted on Sunday.

world Updated: Jun 24, 2018 14:45 IST
Saudi Arabia,Saudi women driving ban,Driving ban
Hannan Iskandar gets ready before she starts to drive her car in her neighborhood, in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, June 23, 2018. (REUTERS Photo)

They hit the road at midnight in celebratory packs, whooping and ululating for joy.

Teenagers gathered on Riyadh’s main boulevard to gawk. Men cracked jokes about how lucky they were to no longer have to chauffeur their wives around.

The end of Saudi Arabia’s infamous ban on women driving came to an end with a mixture of excitement and trepidation, as a handful of women maneuvered their way through the still-packed streets of the capital early Sunday.In a more secluded area, a couple dozen foreign and Saudi women gathered to celebrate, planning to drive together in a convoy looping the neighbourhood.

Few issues have been as polarizing in the conservative Islamic kingdom as the prohibition on female drivers, which Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman vowed to end as a key part of his plan to open up the kingdom’s oil-dependent economy and loosen social restrictions.

A Saudi woman celebrates with her friends as she drives her car in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, June 24, 2018. ( REUTERS )

The government has been keen to promote the end of the ban as a sign that women’s rights are advancing after decades of international criticism, even after several of the country’s most prominent women’s rights activists were arrested last month in a national security-related case. They included women who fought for years to be able to drive.

Many Saudis breathed a sigh of relief when the government announced in September that it would end the ban. Others have quietly opposed the move, arguing that allowing women to drive violates local customs and could lead society down the path to sin.

Some women say they never want to drive. Others say they’ll wait a while, worried they could face harassment.

“My heart is pumping,” one woman said after starting her engine, suddenly overtaken by nerves.

Saudi women celebrate after they drove their cars in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia, June 24, 2018. ( REUTERS )

“You’re going to do great!” a passenger shouted from the back seat. Then she drove off, music floating from the open windows as a chorus of women cheered her on.

To contact the reporter on this story: Vivian Nereim in Riyadh at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alaa Shahine at, Bernard Kohn, John McCluskey

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

First Published: Jun 24, 2018 09:57 IST