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Saudi Arabia: Royal Decree Allows Women to Be Issued Driving Licenses

(Oct. 3, 2017) On September 26, 2017, the King of Saudi Arabia, King Salman, issued a royal decree to add new provisions to Royal Decree M/85 on Traffic.  The new decree gives women the right to be issued a driving license and creates a government authority to execute its provisions within 30 days from the issuance date.  (King Salman Issues Decree Allowing Women to Drive in Saudi Arabia, ARAB NEWS (Sept. 27, 2017); Royal Decree M/85 on Traffic (issued on 26 Shawwal 1428 Hijri, corresponding to Nov. 7, 2007), Saudi Council of Ministers website (in Arabic).)  The decree is the first legal instrument in the history of the Kingdom to grant women the right to drive.  The ban on women driving is considered a major social dilemma within Saudi society.  (Barry Lerner, Saudi Arabia: Shura Council Denies Social Media Reports on Resolution to Allow Women to Drive, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (June 7, 2017).)

The new royal decree is entitled “Royal Order to Adopt the Provisions of the Traffic Law and Its Executive Regulation, Including the Issuance of Driving Licenses for Males and Females Alike.”  The decree assigns the Ministry of Interior the task of overseeing the implementation of the new provisions of the Traffic Law.  The decree was published in the Saudi official gazette (Royal Order to Adopt Provisions of Traffic Law, 4691 UM AL-QURA (7 Muharram 1439 Hijri, corresponding to Sept. 26, 2017), and was also posted in English on the official website of the Ministry of Interior  (Sept. 27, 2017).

Content of the Decree

The decree refers to what the King called “negative consequences” of not allowing women to drive vehicles and the positive aspects of allowing them to do so.  It also mentions that the majority of the senior religious scholars have endorsed the concept of women driving.  Moreover, the decree states that the Kingdom will take all appropriate measures to preserve the security and the safety of Saudi society.  Finally, it provides that a committee comprised of representatives from the Ministries of Interior, Finance, Labor, and Social Development will be created to oversee the implementation of the decree in accordance with Islamic Law.  (Royal Order to Adopt Provisions of Traffic Law, Executive Regulations, Including Issuance of Driving Licenses for Males, Females, Alike [English translation of the Decree], SAUDI PRESS AGENCY (Sept. 26, 2017).)

Reactions

The new decree has been greeted with much support from government officials and religious scholars within Saudi Arabia.  Prince Abdulaziz bin Saud bin Naif, the Minister of Interior (homeland security) endorsed the decree, announcing that the security forces are ready to apply traffic laws to men and women.  The Ministry of Interior also stated that Saudi women will be allowed to drive from the age of 18.  (Women Drivers Will Reduce Crashes, Says Interior Minister, ARAB NEWS (Sept. 29, 2017).)

Members of the Shura Council (Saudi Parliament) have also applauded the new decree, describing it as a landmark in the history of the Kingdom.  Addressing the regular 54th session of the Shura Council, Deputy House Speaker Mohammed Al-Jafri said the royal decree meets the aspirations of many female citizens.  (Mohammed Rasooldeen & Rashid Hassan, Decree Allowing Women to Drive Is ‘Landmark in the History of Saudi Women,’ ARAB NEWS (Sept. 28, 2017).)

Many Saudi legal scholars have also expressed their appreciation for the issuance of the decree.  The decree was approved by the Council of Scholars, the Kingdom’s highest religious body that advises King Salman on religious matters.  (Letting Women Drive in Saudi Arabia ‘Does Not Conflict with Shariah,’ Say Senior Scholars, ARAB NEWS (Sept. 28, 2017).)  The Council’s General Secretary declared, “God has granted the King the responsibility of protecting the people.  The King does what is best for his nation.”  He added that King Salman issued the royal decree to preserve all women’s rights, in order to protect the national interest.  (Id.)  Sheikh Mohammed Al-Issa, a member of the Council of Scholars, explained that the decree is based on religious standards.  He added that Islamic law permits such a measure [allowing women to drive] because the royal decree was formulated in accordance with Islamic law, “which is keen on granting women their rights in every possible way.”  (Muslim World League Chief: Saudi Women Driving Decision Based on Logic and Reasoning, ARAB NEWS (Sept. 28, 2017).)