Midnight cheers and disbelief as Saudi Arabia ends ban on women driving

A woman practices infront of a screen during driving lessons

RENAULT has stolen a march on its Formula One rivals, giving a Saudi Arabian woman a chance to mark a special day by driving one of its cars ahead of today's French Grand Prix.

Female drivers took to the roads in Saudi Arabia on Sunday after a decades-long ban was lifted, making it the last country in the world to allow women behind the wheel.

It's a historic moment for women who have been at the mercy of their husbands, fathers, brothers and drivers to move around.

"While we welcome the fact that women can finally get behind the wheel, we should not forget that many people are still behind bars for their work in fighting for women's rights in Saudi Arabia", Samah Hadid, Amnesty's Middle East campaigns director, said in a statement.

As for male drivers on the road, "they were really supportive and cheering and smiling", she said.

Saudi Arabia eased into its first commuter day with women on the roads without a hitch on Sunday. "I like to be a princess with someone opening the auto door for me and driving me anywhere".

The European soccer body alleges beoutQ is illegally using content from Qatari-based beIN Sports network, which holds regional rights but is blocked in Saudi Arabia under a boycott of Qatar by Riyadh and Arab allies over Doha's alleged support of terrorism, which the Qataris deny.

"Saudi Arabia's crown prince wants it both ways: to be lauded as a reformer on the world stage, and to ensure his status as the only reformer at home".

For some, though, the jubilation Sunday at realizing a hard-won freedom will be tempered by the arrests last month of a number of Saudi rights activists, including some who have played a prominent role in the fight for women's right to drive.

Official statistics show that women make up the overwhelming majority of job seekers in Saudi Arabia and that around 34 percent of Saudis seeking employment are between 25 and 29 years old.

Young women were spotted present in various exhibits where traffic officials instructed them on handlings of a vehicle.

Riyadh resident Amr al-Ardi said the women in his family would wait to see how the system works before they start driving.

Saudi Samar Al-Moqren drives her auto through the streets of the Saudi capital Riyadh for the first time just after midnight, June 24, 2018, when the law allowing women to drive took effect.

Not all women are driving at once, though. Until today many Saudi women had been forced to employ male drivers, which eats into their income while prohibiting others from owning cars. And the classes can be costly, running several hundred dollars.

At the Bikers Skills Institute, General Manager Wael bin Huraib says more than 80 women have registered to take the course and five have completed it since he opened it up to females three months ago.

Human Rights Watch last week said the kingdom has arrested two more women activists - Nouf Abdelaziz and Mayaa al-Zahrani, in what it denounced as an "unrelenting crackdown".

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