Making History, Saudi Arabia Issues Driver's Licenses to 10 Women

Lucy Bush
June 5, 2018

Global news reporters were not present to witness the swap in the only country in the world which prevents women from getting behind the wheel.

But rights groups in the kingdom have campaigned for years to allow women to drive, and some women have been imprisoned for defying the rule.

Ten Saudi women with driving licenses issued from other countries including US, UK, Lebanon and Canada exchanged their licenses with Saudi licenses at the General Department of Traffic in multiple cities. On Sunday, Saudi prosecutors said 17 people in total had been detained, but said eight had been released "temporarily".

However, women's rights activists have complained of a new crackdown - with several being arrested.

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Their activism was seen as part of a larger democratic and civil rights push in the kingdom.

The detainees were said to have admitted to serious charges, including communicating and cooperating with individuals and organisations "hostile to the kingdom", recruiting "persons in a sensitive government entity to obtain confidential information and official documents to harm the higher interests of the kingdom" and providing financial and moral support to "hostile elements abroad".

Ms Hathloul has been detained previously, including once in 2014 when she attempted to drive across the border from the United Arab Emirates. The women were arrested, lost their jobs, had their passports confiscated for a year and faced severe stigmatisation.

Along with other reform efforts, such as lifting a ban on women attending sporting events and allowing movie theaters in Saudi Arabia, permitting women to drive has been a focus for human rights activists in the country. They also warned women that they would be subjected to sexual harassment if they drove.

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In September, King Salman issued the royal decree giving women permission to drive in Saudi Arabia.

The decision to lift a ban on women driving in the kingdom has been hailed as proof of a progressive trend, but the recent arrests have soured that image.

The move, which follows a government crackdown on women activists, is part of a much-publicised liberalisation drive launched by powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as he seeks to modernise the petro-state.

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