An outspoken billionaire Saudi prince has pleaded to end his country’s ban on women driving, saying overturning the law was a matter of women’s rights and economic necessity.
“Stop the debate: Time for women to drive,” Prince Alwaleed bin Talal said on his official Twitter account, @Alwaleed_Talal.
Talal Alwaleed is known to be one of the outspoken members of the Saudi royal family who holds no political posts, but heads Kingdom Holding Co., which has interests including US banking giant Citigroup and the Euro Disney theme park.
Talal has gained prominence by advocating women’s rights in the kingdom, where some of the tightest restrictions on women have been implied, making it the only country where women are not allowed to drive.
In conjunction with his short tweet, Alwaleed’s office issued an unusually long statement late Tuesday outlining his reasons for supporting an end to the ban.
“Preventing a woman from driving a car, is today an issue of rights similar to the one that forbade her from receiving an education or having an independent identity,” Alwaleed said. “They are all unjust acts by a traditional society, far more restrictive than what is lawfully allowed by the precepts of religion.”
Also, the prince detailed the economic costs of women having to rely on foreign private drivers or taxis, since public transport is not an apt alternative in the kingdom, adding further that foreign drivers drains billions of dollars from the Saudi economy.
Alwaleed also calculated the average families spend during a month on a driver, which is 3,800 Riyals, saying this money could otherwise help household incomes at a time when many are making do with less.
“Having women drive has become an urgent social demand predicated upon current economic circumstances.” The prince said he is making his call on behalf of those with “limited means”.
Women’s rights in Kingdom Of Saudi Arabia were going through a slow expansion under the king Abdullah, who in 2013 named them to the Shura Council which advises cabinet.
Abdullah also announced that women could also cast their vote and run in municipal elections, which were held in December last year. These and other decisions in Saudi history were initially opposed by “certain components” but soon became accepted, Alwaleed said, calling for “a similarly decisive” political act.