Saudi Arabia issues first driving licences to women in decades

The move is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's far-reaching liberalisation drive

The move is part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's far-reaching liberalisation drive

The crown prince's Vision 2030 reform plan seeks to elevate women to almost one-third of the workforce, up from about 22 percent now.

They took a brief driving test and eye exam before being issued the licences at the General Department of Traffic in the capital, Riyadh. Expectations are that next week an additional 2,000 women will join the ranks of licenced drivers in the Kingdom.

The general traffic directorate on Monday began replacing internationally recognised driving licences held by women with Saudi ones across the country, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reported.

But the kingdom faces steep economic challenges and a burgeoning young population that has access to the world through the Internet and sees women in neighbouring Muslim countries driving freely.

"I have 12 years of driving experience in Lebanon, Switzerland, and the United States".

They now face a range of charges, including communicating with people and organizations hostile to the kingdom and providing financial and moral support to hostile elements overseas.

Driving schools for women have been set up across five cities in the kingdom, and teachers will include Saudi women who obtained their licenses overseas.

"The dream became a reality", the woman, Ahlam al-Thunayan, wrote, thanking both King Salman and Prince Mohammed.

The self-styled reformer has also ended a decades-long ban on cinemas, allowed mixed-gender concerts and clipped the powers of the long-feared religious police.

Public prosecutors described their efforts as a "coordinated activity undermining the security and stability of the kingdom".

"The Saudi Arabian authorities' endless harassment of women's rights activists is entirely unjustifiable, and the world must not remain silent on the repression of human rights defenders in the country", Samah Hadid, Amnesty International's Middle East director of campaigns, said last week.

While Saudi law has never explicitly banned women from driving, women were not issued driving licences.

Authorities said eight of the detainees had been "temporarily released" until their investigation is completed. A Saudi government statement released on Saturday said that the activists had been arrested on charges that included "suspicious contact with foreign parties", without naming them.

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