Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, above at a news conference in September… (Fayez Nureldine / AFP/Getty…)
A Saudi prince has renewed his argument that women should be allowed to drive, saying on Twitter that doing so would eliminate the need for hundreds of thousands of foreign drivers.
Activists point out that driving is not actually legally prohibited for Saudi women, but traffic officials refuse to grant them licenses because clerics in the country forbid it. As a result, women rely on drivers to ferry them around, one of many factors pulling foreign workers into the Arab kingdom.
Saudi women have repeatedly protested the ban by driving in the kingdom, and faced detentions and death threats for doing so. Activist Manal Sharif, who has championed the campaign, says driving is part of a broader push for women to enjoy a host of freedoms now denied to them, including the ability to work, study, marry or travel without getting written permission from a male guardian.
“For the religious establishment, this is like their last castle, so if they lose this castle, they lose their grip on women, on controlling women,” Sharif said at a United Nations forum this year.
Prince Alwaleed bin Talal appeared to be making a very different argument for allowing women to drive, however, one rooted in economics rather than gender equality.
If women could drive, Saudi Arabia could “dispense with at least 500,000 foreign drivers, and that has an economic and social impact for the country,” the prince wrote on Twitter on Sunday. His words, retweeted more than 2,300 times, set off a torrent of online debate over the restrictions.
The Saudi prince, who is known more as a businessman than a political leader, has spoken up for allowing women to drive before, saying two years ago that the ban created “an additional burden on households,” according to Reuters. His wife, Princess Ameerah al-Taweel, told the “Today” show that women being able to drive was “a social need.”
His words this time come as the Saudi government has been cracking down on immigrants, aiming to boost the number of jobs held by local workers as unemployment has increase. A rash of deportations was suspended this month by the king, who offered foreigners a three-month grace period to gain legal status, Gulf News reported.
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