The diary of a Saudi man, currently living in the United Kingdom, where the Religious Police no longer trouble him for the moment.

In Memory of the lives of 15 Makkah Schoolgirls, lost when their school burnt down on Monday, 11th March, 2002. The Religious Police would not allow them to leave the building, nor allow the Firemen to enter.

Friday, June 11, 2004

Women can drive - Official! 

Thanks to a correspondent for this link to an archived BBC broadcast from yesterday.

Simon Mayo interview

"Fast forward" to 00.33.00 , 33 minutes into the Simon Mayo program.

There is an interview with Prince Turki al Faisal, Saudi Ambassador to UK. Much of it is bland and unaggressive questioning followed by smooth answers. He quotes an opinion poll where Osama Bin Laden only gets 4.7% popularity, not the 50% reported by Al Jazeera and obvious to anyone who lives here.

Anyway, after the interruption for the traffic broadcast and the cricket scores (ahh, cricket, that took me back. If only we played cricket here, I'm sure it would be a different place. There's something about the pace and civilised manners of the game that would do wonders for our national personality. The Pakistani expats play it, on pitches that look like concrete, but they are seriously good, no Saudi team would ever dare take them on, we'd get totally humiliated by them and that would not do at all) and the usual reference to the "booze bombers" (if they want to complain about their treatment by the Saudi Courts, there is a Saudi Court where they can go and complain!) the question of women driving came up.

(This is not a comment on women drivers, just a common sight round here, the camels always seem to be enjoying themselves!)

Prince T then said that "Women are allowed to drive..." and then followed that with "in the countryside, not in the towns". I think Simon Mayo was a bit shocked by that concession, so he didn't follow it up as he should. The way "in the countryside" sounds to someone in Europe, it sounds as though women can drive thru the equivalent of the leafy lanes of English Cotswolds or the Massachussets Berkshires, just not in the big cities. Well, that's a reasonable concession, isn't it?

The problem is that it doesn't translate well to Saudi Arabia. We don't have winding leafy lanes thru the countryside. We have desert, and a few freeway-standard roads that traverse the desert. Off the freeway, you get a network of tracks. They usually end up at some litter-strewn picnic spot (near the cities) or bedu encampment (otherwise). And yes, women do drive on the more remote tracks, you see bedu women doing it, Mrs. A does when it's remote enough. But women are only driving there because they can get away with it, there are no cops, so they won't get caught. But it's hardly the concession that Prince T made it out to be, and it's certainly not a legal right.

When we go on vacation, Mrs. A. who is actually a very competent driver, won't be allowed to drive. No licence, you see. You can only drive abroad if you have a licence from your own country. So in effect, the discrimination is global.

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