Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia shelves plan to let women drive

Agence France Presse
Saudi Arabia's appointed consultative council has shelved a proposal by one of its members to lift the ban on women's driving in the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom.
According to Al-Watan, a decision on whether the issue will be debated has been put off until the speaker of the Shura Council returns from an official visit to Canada.
But the leading daily Al-Riyadh quoted the deputy speaker of the 150-strong body, Mahmoud Tiba, as telling the council during a session on Sunday that issues such as lifting the driving ban "should be discussed by the highest religious authority in the country."

He was referring to the Council of Senior Ulema (Muslim scholars).

Al-Riyadh also quoted a high-ranking source in the Shura Council as saying the advisory body would not discuss the proposal.

The suggestion to debate an end to the driving ban was submitted to Tiba Sunday by council member Mohammad al-Zalfa, who cited 18 supportive arguments, including the fact that the prohibition has led to the presence of around a million foreign drivers which cost Saudi Arabia 12 billion riyals ($3.2 billion) a year.

"I do not know why the recommendation [to debate an end to the ban] was not approved by the [acting] president," Zalfa told the English-language Arab News.

"We are not asking for a discussion of something that is sinful in our religion or in our culture. I think a lot of people in our society want to find a solution to this problem, which is that women are not allowed to drive," he said.

The all-male Shura Council, which is appointed by King Fahd, has no legislative powers. Its recommendations are referred to the monarch and must be approved by the government.

Women in the kingdom are forced to cover from head to toe in public, and cannot travel without a written permission from their male guardian.

A group of 47 women defied the ban on driving by roaming the streets of Riyadh in 15 cars on November 6, 1990. They were arrested and punished.

Saudi Arabia received the lowest rating on women's freedom in a survey of 17 nations in the region conducted by the American "Freedom House" and released at the weekend's World Economic Forum in Jordan. - AFP