File photo: Saudi Arabia's Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Image Credit: Reuters

Riyadh: Saudi Arabia isn’t ready to end the world’s only ban on women driving, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman said, arguing it’s not just a matter of ending strictures imposed by the kingdom’s austere form of Islam.

Allowing women to drive is “not a religious issue as much as it is an issue that relates to the community itself that either accepts it or refuses it,” said the 30-year-old prince, who has amassed unprecedented powers since his father, King Salman, ascended to the throne.

“The community is not convinced about women driving” and sees negative consequences if it’s allowed, the prince said on Monday after outlining a plan to reduce the kingdom’s reliance on oil.

The prince had signalled his support for more freedom for women during an interview this month, saying “we believe women have rights in Islam that they’ve yet to obtain.” But when asked about the driving ban by a reporter on Monday, he said reform couldn’t be rushed. “Changes could happen in the future and we always hope they will be positive changes,” he said.

Grand Mufti Shaikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Al Shaikh recently said allowing women to drive was “a dangerous matter that should not be permitted”.

Saudi women need a guardian’s consent to receive a passport, travel outside the country or marry.

King Abdullah had expanded the rights of women in the kingdom before his death in early 2015. Amid opposition from traditionalist clerics and their followers, the late king opened the first coeducational university, named the first female deputy minister and said women can vote and run in municipal polls. Many Saudi women want more rapid change.