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Mohammed bin Salman and the End of a 70-year Ban

Mohammed bin Salman and the End of a 70-year Ban

Sunday, 24 June, 2018 - 12:30
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is the former general manager of Al-Arabiya television. He is also the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat, and the leading Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla. He is also a senior columnist in the daily newspapers Al-Madina and Al-Bilad.

The ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia could have continued for another ten years, or even 20 years, if it wasn’t or Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who was tasked by the king with the project of development and change.

The decision to end the ban on women driving is one of many decisions pertaining to women, like allowing them to enter sports stadiums, attend concerts, and work in various different sectors.

Since the 1970s, we kept waiting for the moment when banning women would end, which was an idea that is not justified by logic or religion, merely a societal tradition. Year after year, our hopes were crushed, and the calls of local women failed. The ban continued for long centuries as no one dared to anger the governors or society. This also included several other unjustified prohibitions, from cinemas to concerts to women participating in public community events.

I say this to clarify a truth that we learned from these century-long bans: That this was a brave step taken by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who did not have to do it. He could have left Saudi Arabia to go forth as it had been for the past 70 years, by banning women from diving cars. And it is not true that there were external factors pressuring him, as foreign governments have tried this and failed. There is also no large local group calling for change, as some claim, as the number of women who did actually try to break this barrier and drive their cars in the past years is very little.

Saudi Arabia has witnessed two years of massive changes, and after a year of becoming crown prince, it must be said that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is a man with a vision and a brave leader. He challenged expectations that betted on him going back on his promises, as no other Saudi ruler dared to do this before. He proved wrong many analysts who believed that his statements and promises were for propaganda and wouldn’t see the light. All the promises were executed.

The truth is, he didn’t have to do it if it weren’t for his personal belief in change. Perhaps his wishes reflect his belonging to the younger generation, or his conviction that the kingdom could not develop economically without being developed socially. It is no secret that we are aware about his thoughts on change since about four years.

Allowing women to drive cars, ending the ban on cinemas, and other shockwaves that he sent through Saudi Arabia which is the most traditional society in the world, were all issues that were discussed before King Salman bin Abdulaziz assumed power, and was entrusted with being crown prince.

Everything we see is drawn out in the promised project of change and development, by freeing society from obstacles that hinder it from moving forward.

Those who try to portray this change, especially the ending of the ban on women driving cars, as a consequence of internal pressures are a minority living in their own world that has nothing to do with Saudi Arabia’s reality. The truth is completely opposite to this.

The pressures came from governors and traditionalists who refused changing the status quo, and tried making the government go back on its decision, either directly or through social media. And as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the crown prince could have left things as they are, by continuing to ban women for ten, maybe 20 more years, but he chose the opposite.

He chose to be responsible for this decision, just as he did with other socially sensitive decisions in Saudi Arabia. For this, we have to acknowledge his courage, and salute him for this step and others, while being aware that he has the trust and guidance of the king.

By ending the ban, Saudi Arabia is ending a lot of the “privacy” that specialized and isolated it from the world, and it is time for it to be a normal state. With giving women a lot of their rights, and opening up more opportunities for them in the last two years, we look forward to more in the future. All of these decisions are part of the larger Vision 2030, which aims to transport Saudi Arabia from being one of the only oil-producing countries, to being an able country economically, politically and militarily.

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