Saudi Arabia is a dominantly Muslim country. A majority of the people there, especially the leadership and clergy, subscribe to the Wahabi doctrine; a strict interpretation of Islam.
It was this strict Wahabi interpretation of Islam that Saudi authorities relied on to bar Muslim women from driving in the Kingdom. The Kingdom also has laws banning women from travelling alone beyond city limits without the escort of a male relative or a husband.
Many Muslims outside the Kingdom consider Saudi society as very conservative. The country’s hard line stance on issues is mainly as a result of the influence from Arabian culture rather than Islamic teachings.
It is as a result of these customs of Saudi society that the Kingdom restricts women’s right to drive, travel within the kingdom and overseas unaccompanied, presenting themselves as candidates in elections, voting, working and studying.
Lately though, the laws that repress women’s rights are gradually been lifted thanks to a very youthful Crown Prince and a King keen on moderate interpretations of Saudi customs.
The Royal Court has recently overturned a centuries old principle that now allows women to drive in the kingdom. Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz al Saud has signed a Royal Decree to this effect, to the chagrin of the country’s ultra conservatives.
The Royal Decree will permit Saudi women to take on the wheels starting in June 2018. The new policy has brightened the prospects of the local car industry most especially the inaugural Automechanika Riyadh car show held there from February 5th-7th, 2018.
Saudi Arabia is the largest auto and auto parts market in the Middle East, accounting for an estimated 40 percent of all vehicles sold in the region, statistic show. The kingdom imported about 1 million vehicles in 2016.
Ahmed Pauwels, CEO of Messe Middle East, which is a co-organizer of the auto show, said the influx of Saudi women drivers will have significant impact on the auto parks, maintenance and services industry in the kingdom.
“Car manufactures will be the first to benefit from the new law allowing women to drive, along with banks and insurance companies that influence and underwrite new car purchases,” Pauwels said.
At present, the kingdom already has seven million passenger vehicles in operation and this will increase significantly in the coming years, with some nine million new drivers expected to be added on the roads. Pauwels advised car manufacturers and suppliers in the kingdom to stake their claim on the market early, as this will provide them with lots of opportunities since many women will be buying cars to exercise the new rights granted to them.
The exhibition that attracted over 200 companies from 25 participating countries was held in the Saudi capital Riyadh from February 5 to 7 at the Riyadh International exhibition.