First Saudi women receive drivers’ licenses amid crackdown

A Saudi woman puts on her seat belt as she begins a driving lesson in Riyadh

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has courted Western allies in a bid to open up the deeply-conservative Muslim kingdom and diversify its oil-dependent economy, the region's largest.

"It is no secret that many women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia hold driving licenses from overseas", the statement added.

"Ten Saudi women made history on Monday when they were issued driving licences", said the information ministry's Centre for International Communication (CIC).

The women took a brief driving test before receiving their licenses as they'd already held driving licenses from other countries, including the U.K., Lebanon and Canada.

In preparation for the far-reaching effects of the new policy, a number of recent automotive exhibitions in Riyadh and the port city of Jeddah have attracted crowds of women seeking to learn about automobile culture, vehicle dealers and insurance companies.

This measure is part of the traffic department's preparations to implement a royal decree allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia.

An estimated five driving schools for women have since been launched in the Kingdom.

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An official statement said the 10 women who were issued licenses already held global licenses.

Saudi women have previously petitioned the government for the lifting of the ban, and even taken to the wheel in protest.

Others were detained over the years during various efforts by women's rights activists to drive.

However, to boost the economy and ease worldwide criticism, Saudi Arabia's 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman promoted major cultural changes and allowed women to drive.

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. Authorities accused the detainees of "coordinated activity undermining the security and stability of the kingdom".

"Nine suspects, including four women, remain in custody after they "confessed" to a slew of charges such as suspicious contact with "hostile" organisations and recruiting people in sensitive government positions", reports SBS.

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