Saudi Arabia is Challenging Islamist Extremism. With the Women

By Souad Sbai

Small steps forward, but still important opportunities to improve women condition in the Arab world. From now on, Saudi women will be allowed to get the driving license and, from June 24, they can drive alone, without being accompanied by a male relative.

The implementation of this law – strongly desired by King Salman – raised some initial perplexity because “openings” of this kind have not been made by Riyadh since time immemorial, due to the traditional strong influence of the Wahhabi component in the country. However, it seems that the King has quite clear ideas.

The moment to check the genuineness of the change has still to come. The socio-political reality of Saudi Arabia is very complex, and there still many issues to be addressed. At any rate, the wind of change in respect to the past can be felt in Riyadh.

From the very beginning, Salman expressed his dissatisfaction with the level of openness that the country had reached, saying to be favorable to make the Saudi society less rigid, in order to comply with its ambitions of modernization.

Seeing or thinking of a Saudi woman driving alone does not entail that a new era will eventually succeed to be ushered in. But this is a sign that in the region the awareness that things can be less rigid than how they were conceived in the past is gaining ground.

The General Director of the Traffic Department, Mohammed Al Bassami, clearly explains in a note that “it is no secret that in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia there are many women who have taken a driving license abroad” (obviously only those who can afford it).

This makes us understand that in Riyadh they are cognizant of the existence of a society that wants to emerge and that has always longed to be more open and catch up with the rest of the world.

A step forward then, small but forward for Saudi women. This makes us think of how difficult life is for women living in certain political and geographic contexts: in Afghanistan, where they can wear the burqa and nothing else; in India, where rapes and murders are steadily increasing; in Congo, where the use of rapes as a weapon of war occurs on a daily basis, and we could mention many other examples…

Also in Saudi Arabia the condition of women still needs substantial and heavy steps forward. Further reforms are certainly needed. Nevertheless, in cases like those cited above, even the willingness of a single person, or a centimeter, are flames of hope for women. But many women of the European left still do not realize it. None of these ladies are really interested in knowing whether Saudi women are feeling good or bad.