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The New Arab

Saudi woman's car set alight after driving ban lifted

Not all sections of Saudi society have been welcoming of ban end [Twitter]

Date of publication: 5 July, 2018

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Saudi men opposed to women driving are believed to have set a woman's car alight in protest at the lifting of the ban.

Saudi police are searching for arsonists who torched a woman's car, only a week after the kingdom lifted a decades' long ban on female motorists.

Salma al-Sherif, a 31-year-old cashier based near the holy city of Mecca, claimed that her car had been deliberately set alight this week by men "opposed to women drivers".

"The incident is being investigated by security officials," Mecca police said in a statement released late Tuesday by local authorities.

"We are searching for the culprits."

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's announcement last year that women would be allowed to drive from 24 June was hailed from some sections of international media.

Analysts have warned that the reforms are merely cosmetic changes, allowing the kingdom to attract positive international publicity, while it continues its crackdown on activists - including women's rights activists.

For decades, hardliners justified the ban saying that allowing female motorists would promote gender mixing and promiscuity.

Sherif said she faced abuse from men in her neighbourhood soon after she began driving in a bid to ease her financial pressures.

"Half of my salary of 4,000 riyals ($1,067) was spent on a driver to take me to my workplace and drive my elderly parents," Sherif told the pro-government daily Okaz.

"But from the first day of driving I was subjected to insults from men."

Sherif received an outpouring of support from Saudis on social media, with many posting pictures of her burning vehicle and denouncing the attack as a "terrorist act".

Authorities have sought to show the driving reform had religious approval, with the kingdom's top clerical council emphasising the lifting of the ban was in line with Islamic values - something at odds with previous positions.

But many are still wary of a backlash from hardliners, amid a torrent of sexist comments against women drivers on social media.

Some 120,000 women have applied for driving licences, according to an interior ministry spokesman, but it remains unclear how many have been issued.

Those taking to the roads appear to be women who have swapped their foreign licenses for Saudi ones.

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