Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti says it is not in the best interest of women or society to lift the ban on women driving. His statement came during a television interview on the privately-owned conservative al-Majd channel on Friday evening.
“If women knew the evils and consequences of driving they would realize it is in their interest and society’s interest that they do not drive,” Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Alsheikh said, according to local news site An7a. “Women driving would lead to more accidents. When women are in danger, they don’t know how to act. How are they going to deal with accidents?”
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. Although there are no written laws in the country that make women driving illegal, authorities continue to refuse issuing driving licenses to women and do not accept licenses issued from other countries. Some women who challenged the ban on driving in recent years have been stopped by the police.
Several Saudi officials have in the past described women driving as a “social” matter and that it is up to society, not the state, to decide when women can drive. The latest of these statements came last month by the Minister of Justice Muhammad Al-Isa who was quoted by al-Hayat daily as saying there is no constitutional or regulatory barriers to prevent women from driving in Saudi Arabia.
Reacting to the Grand Mufti’s statements on Twitter, some users criticized him for underestimating women. “Does this guy know that there are women in this world who build their own cars?” one tweep asked. Others decided to take a more optimistic view of what the Mufti said on television. “A very significant development since he didn’t say it’s a ‘sin’,” tweeted Hisham Malaika.
The significance of the Mufti’s statements is debatable, of course. A decision to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia must come from the top. Earlier this year, King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the consultative Shoura Council for the first time, a step described by many as a major advancement for women empowerment in the country.
Shortly after their appointment, some women members of Shoura said they plan to push for lifting the ban on driving. Local media reported that the Council is set to discuss the issue, but they are yet to announce the time for when that discussion will happen.