|Date: Jun 5, 2018|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|First group of Saudi women receive driving licenses|
|Agence France Presse|
RIYADH: Saudi Arabia Monday began issuing its first driving licenses to women in decades, state media reported. “The first group of women today received their Saudi driving licenses,” the official Saudi Press Agency said.“The general directorate of traffic started replacing international driving licenses recognized in the kingdom with Saudi licenses,” it added.
The move comes as Saudi Arabia, the only country in the world where women are not allowed drive, prepares to lift its decades-long ban on female drivers on June 24.
SPA said authorities started swapping international licenses for Saudi ones in multiple locations across the kingdom, with women applicants made to undergo a “practical test.”
It did not specify the number of licenses issued.
The General Department of Traffic Director Gen. Mohammad al-Bassami said last month that women 18 years of age and older will be allowed to apply for a driver’s license.
Driving schools for women have also been set up across five cities in the conservative kingdom, and teachers will include Saudi women who obtained their licenses abroad.
Saudi women have previously petitioned the government for the lifting of the ban, and even taken to the wheel in protest.
The move is part of Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman’s far-reaching liberalization drive as he seeks to further modernize the conservative petro-state.
The self-styled reformer, who recently undertook a global tour aimed at reshaping his kingdom’s austere image, has sought to break with long-held restrictions on women and the mixing of the genders.
His Vision 2030 reform plan for a post-oil era seeks to elevate women to nearly one-third of the workforce, up from about 22 percent now.
But casting a shadow on the reforms, Saudi Arabia last week said it detained 17 people for “undermining” the kingdom’s security, in what campaigners have dubbed a sweeping crackdown against activists.
Rights groups have identified many of the detainees as women campaigners for the right to drive and to end the conservative Islamic country’s male guardianship system.
Authorities said eight of the detainees had been “temporarily released” until their ongoing investigation is completed.
Nine suspects, including four women, remain in custody after they “confessed” to a slew of charges such as suspicious contact with “hostile” organizations and recruiting people in sensitive government positions, according to SPA.
Official authorities accused the detainees of “coordinated activity undermining the security and stability of the kingdom.”
Previous reports in state-backed media branded some of the detainees traitors to the nation and “agents of embassies.”
Campaigners have dismissed the reports as a “smear” campaign. The crackdown has also sparked a torrent of global criticism.