Saudi Arabia 'not ready' to let women drive because of culture, not religion - prince

Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman © Charles Platiau
Saudi Arabia isn't ready to allow women to drive cars, a powerful prince has announced, dismissing suggestions that the ban would soon be lifted.

“So far the society is not persuaded [by women driving] – and it has negative influence – but we stress that it is up to the Saudi society,” said Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been granted unprecedented powers under the rule of his father.

The prince added that it is not “a religious issue as much as it is an issue that relates to the community itself that either accepts it or refuses it,” Gulf News reported.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are not allowed to drive. Although there are no formal written laws barring women from operating vehicles, they are not issued licenses, making it illegal for them to drive.

Other restrictions faced by women in the ultra-conservative country include being forced to wear loose-fitting gowns and being barred from going anywhere without a chaperone. They cannot open bank accounts, work certain jobs, attend university, undergo medical procedures, or travel outside the country without permission of a male guardian – usually their husband or a relative.

Some of the country's most prominent clerics have cautioned against females driving, issuing religious decrees against it. Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh recently said that allowing women to drive was a “dangerous matter that should not be permitted.” In 2013, Sheikh Saleh al-Lohaidan said that females risked damaging their ovaries and producing children with clinical problems if they drove.

Campaigns lashing out at the ban were launched following the 2011 Arab Spring, which included women filming themselves driving. However, authorities quickly squashed the movement. The protest was reignited in 2013, only to be quelled by the government once again.

Despite his unwillingness to lift the ban on driving, the deputy crown prince said earlier this month that “we believe women have rights in Islam that they've yet to obtain." He also stated that more women in the workforce could help boost the country's productivity.