Manama: A Saudi journalist and author has sparked a new debate over the right of women to drive in the kingdom.
Samar Al Mogren posted on her Twitter account that allowing women to drive was a popular and national request.
Her tweet to her 130,000 followers expectedly triggered a wide spectrum of reactions, ranging from utter rejection and harsh condemnation to total approval and strong support.
Although Al Mogren did not explain the reasons for posting the tweet now, followers and online users resorted to the same arguments that have been dividing the Saudi society sharply over the matter.
Reactions included criticism that such a request could be presented only by those who had no dignity or self-esteem.
One commentator opted for sarcasm, saying that he would hire a woman driver to look after his business while he would remain idle.
Another insisted that women had no fortitude to drive on the crowded roads and highways.
Another user, Fahad, said that the issue was the harassment that women would suffer at the hands of reckless young drivers.
“When I think of the trouble the women would be exposed to because of careless and reckless young drivers, I cannot support allowing women to suffer any kind of humiliation,” he said.
However, those who sided with Al Mogren welcomed her remarks.
“Allowing women is not a request, but a right that should be upheld,” Ahmad said.
Sleepless said that it would be better to allow women to drive than to make them depend entirely on foreign drivers.
“I am shocked by those who accept to leave their women with foreign drivers, but have problems to allow them to drive without the presence of a non-related man,” he posted.
“We all do know that an honest woman remains honest whether she drives a car or not. If people are afraid of social problems as they claim, they should make sure they are not part of them,” he said.
Another user, writing under the moniker of Visitor, said that the people were not yet ready to see a woman behind a steering wheel in the country.
“The concept of women driving depends on the culture of the people and their readiness to embrace the idea,” Visitor posted. “Our people do not have this culture yet, although most of them see it as a normal fact of life when women drive in other countries,” he said.
In 2013, a tweet by Saudi billionaire Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal in favour of allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia received similar reactions from the local blogosphere.
“Deporting illegal foreign workers was the right decision and allowing women to drive will result in saving at least 500,000 jobs held by foreign drivers and subsequent economic and social benefits for the nation,” Al Waleed posted on his Twitter account.
The debate over allowing women to drive has been heating up in Saudi Arabia and the remarks by Al Waleed accentuated the arguments of the camp supporting the much anticipated breakthrough in the socially conservative society.
The presence of thousands of male drivers to drive mainly Saudi women and girls has been regularly used by supporters of allowing women to drive to highlight negative social and economic problems.
The arguments have also been boosted by “grave concerns” felt by several women when riding with taxi drivers.
No legal text bans women from driving in Saudi Arabia and the issue is related mainly to social traditions.
The de facto ban has been at times challenged by women, but they were accused of “stirring up public opinion.”