Saudi woman’s car torched days after driving ban lifted

Police in the holy city of Mecca have launched an investigation and hunt for arsonists who torched a woman’s car just a week after Saudi Arabia lifted a decades-old ban on female motorists, local media report.

The victim, Salma al-Sherif, 31, said her car was targeted this week by local men who opposed driving by women. Sherif faced their insults from the day she started driving to ease her financial burden.

She said half of her $1,067 salary as a cashier was spent on a driver to take her to office and her old parents to other places around Mecca. The lifting of the ban on female motorists on June 24 gave her a chance to save some money otherwise spent on a driver.
Conservative minds in the kingdom fear female motorists would promote gender mixing and promiscuity.

Social media was awash with comments of users this week extending their support to Sherif. Some posted pictures of her burning car condemning the “terrorist act” of the perpetrators.

Although the authorities and clerical council have said the lifting of the driving ban on women is in line with Islamic values, hardliners are not convinced. Fearing their attacks, many women are keeping their cars off the streets.

The lifting of the ban on female motorists is part of a modernisation drive by the reformist Crown Prince Mohammed Salman.

Although over 100,000 women have applied for driving licences, interior ministry is silent on how many licences have been issued.

Critics say Salman’s driving reform smacks of double standards since some of those who originally called for the lifting of the ban on female motorists have been put behind bars.

According to them, by jailing some activists, Riyadh wants to send a message across that only the crown prince is the harbinger of change and reforms can never be won by people through activism.