The young Saudi Crown Prince's PR coup proves political calculation in the country has changedby Jane Kinninmont / September 27, 2017 / Leave a comment
Saudi Arabia has overturned its ban on women driving—the only one in the world. For years this has been one of one of the most famous things about Saudi Arabia. Internationally it has symbolised women’s oppression and inequality in Saudi Arabia, while at home conservatives have portrayed women driving as a danger to public morality, road safety and even their own fertility. Changing this is an international PR coup for Saudi Arabia and for Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, who is far more media-savvy and PR-conscious than his predecessors. This issue is so well-known, disputed and symbolic that lifting the ban has more immediate impact than almost any other single announcement they could make.
Pressure for this change has been building internally, both from Saudi women activists and from women who don’t see themselves as activists but just need a way to get to work. Economic necessity has been an important part of the argument. Women are the majority of Saudi graduates, get the best degrees, and are working in rising numbers. The growing economic role of women has made the driving ban increasingly impractical in a country with basically no public transport.