Sunday, June 24, 2018

In her own words: Saudi Arabian woman on her first drive

AFP Riyadh reports on June 24, 2018 about one young Saudi woman starting to drive, Samar Almogren. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted in below.

It's midnight in Riyadh, and Samar Almogren is making her way across the city she was born and raised in.
(AFP)

Women in Riyadh and other cities began zipping around streets bathed in amber light soon after the ban was lifted.

Saudi Arabia ended its longstanding ban on women driving on Sunday - and the second the clock struck midnight, women across the country started their engines.
This is what it was like for one of those women as she drove across Riyadh, the city of her birth, in her own words:
"My name is Samar Almogren. I'm a talkshow host and writer.
"I took off my niqab a long time ago. When I first decided to show my face on television, it did not go down well. My brothers were very upset. But my father supported me, and has always supported me in all of my life decisions. He's the one who encouraged me to study abroad.
"I've driven in different countries before, and I have an international driver's license, but it's going to be totally different here. At home.
"I actually hate driving. But that's not the point. The point is that it is my right. I can drive, and whether I choose to or not is another issue.
"My whole body is tingling right now. To get in my car, to hold this steering wheel, after having lived my entire life, since the moment I entered this world, in the back seat... This is now my responsibility, and I'm more than ready to bear it. I've long depended on myself.
"I always knew this day would come. But it came fast. Sudden.
"I think this was the biggest stumbling block. I don't see any more obstacles from here on. Driving was the big one, and that's done now.
"Everyone's already asking me to drive them to work or to come for coffee. It's going to be great to be able to take my mother around, rather than have her sit in the backseat with a driver who's a stranger. No, my mom isn't going to drive, at her age. We're going to drive her around, me and my sisters. We want to spoil her.
"What's most important to me is that I can drive my baby around. It's the worst thing to me to have to entrust him to a driver, even though I'm always with him in the car.
"I wore white tonight because it's the colour of peace. I feel like a butterfly... No, a bird. I feel free like a bird."


As driving ban ends, Saudi Arabia’s women take to the roads with joy and relief

The Washington Post covers women driving in a June 24, 2018 story by Kareem Fahim. You can link to the story here, and the text is pasted below.
After midnight, on June 24, the day the ban on women driving in Saudi is lifted, Ahd Niazy's mother, Dania Alagili, 47, parks the car after taking her family for a stroll for the first time in the streets of Jeddah. (Iman Al-Dabbagh/For The Washington Post)
–With her husband in the passenger seat and her daughter cheering her on, Dania Alagili guided her sport utility vehicle onto the King Abdulaziz Road early Sunday, breaking a barrier by becoming just another Saudi driver in the roaring traffic.  
 “This is a day I’ve been waiting for,” she said. “For the last 30 years.” 
 Saudi Arabia allowed women to drive for the first time on Sunday, lifting a ban that was the last of its kind in the world and one that had come to symbolize the kingdom’s harsh subjugation of women.   
In an effort to modernize the country, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has eased some social restrictions. And by the standards of the Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy guided by an ultraconservative religious creed, reforms that seemed like the barest of innovations – like the lifting of the driving ban or the opening of cinemas – are viewed by many here as revolutionary, if long overdue.  
 That Alagili, 47, had earned her driving license 23 years ago, in the United States, did nothing to dampen the joy on Sunday of driving in her own city, on her own roads, on her own. 
Without the driving privileges, and dependent on men, “I felt heavy, tied back,” she said.   
 She headed to her father’s house, knowing he would want to share the moment with his only daughter. “For women it’s a big deal. And for the men who supported us,” she said.  

Ahd Niazy tells her mom, Dania Alagili , how proud she is of her. (Iman Al-Dabbagh/For The Washington Post)

 Cars raced by on the King Abdulaziz Road, a harrowing stretch of freeway that is also perhaps an argument for reevaluating the driving privileges of some of the men in Saudi Arabia. 
"You’re doing great momma,” her daughter, Ahd Niazy, 23, said from the back seat. Hany Niazy, Dania’s husband, called the couple’s other daughter, Layal, 19, who lives in Washington, D.C.  Her face appeared on his phone.
 “Momma how do you feel?” Layal asked.  
 “I feel great,” he mother said. “I feel wonderful. I am born today.”  

Saturday, June 23, 2018

It's Official --- Saudi Women Drive!!!!!

Nine years after I started this little blog, I am so happy to be at my computer, counting down the minutes until women in Saudi Arabia will be able to drive legally. Over all these years, reading about the issue from so many angles, it was still such a delight to learn the news last September that the ban would be lifted at last.

And now the day is here. People are sending out tweets of congratulations. Women are tweeting that they are getting ready to drive. Others are tweeting to women to take the responsibility of driving seriously. And the world watches.  Another tweet mentions that filming and photographing women drivers in order to mock them is forbidden and punishable by fines and even prison. I trust that cool heads will prevail and people will be mature about this change.

Fortunately, Saudis like to stay up late, so I think those who go out driving in 47 minutes (yikes it's coming up soon) will find that there a lots of people on the road. I hope there will be some peaceful celebrations and ululations (zaghareed).

My novel, A Caravan of Brides, has a chapter in it imagining that on the first day of women driving (set in 2018 by pure luck) that women stand on the steps at the Traffic Department and let out zaghareed. I don't think that will happen tonight, but maybe someday.

Now it is nine minutes to midnight. Now it is two minutes. I eagerly await coverage of the day, especially what people post about their first drives. 

It is so wonderful to be alive to see this change take place.

And now, the moment has arrived. Congratulations and Hallelujah!!!!!

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Countdown begins to Saudi women driving

The June 21, 2018 English language daily, the Arab News, reported on women getting ready to drive. You can link to the story here, and the text is pasted in below.

 The story is by Nur Nugali and Rawan Radwan

Women who already held valid driving licenses from authorized countries found the process of switching to a Saudi one simple.

  • Women who already held valid driving licenses from authorized countries found the process of switching to a Saudi one simple
  • Many women plan to hit the road on June 24 and enjoy their new travel independence, without the need for a man to drive them
In just three days’ time, Saudi women will be able to take to the wheel and drive.
Many have been telling Arab News how simple it was to obtain a license, how much they are looking forward to driving — and what this transformation in Saudi society means to them.
“It is as if I have been recognized as an equal citizen,” said Hatoon Ajwad Al-Fassi, a historian and columnist at Al Riyadh newspaper. “I have to admit that it’s a bit surreal.”
Women who already held valid driving licenses from authorized countries found the process of switching to a Saudi one simple.
“I have never seen such ease in obtaining my Saudi license, the easiest license I’ve ever gotten in my life,” said Noor Ashadawi, 36. a finance manager in Alkhobar.
“After going through Absher and making an appointment at the Traffic and Road Safety Department website, we got an appointment for early Ramadan in Alkhobar. It was canceled, but I was given a new one for the next day.”
“The process didn’t take more than 15 to 20 minutes maximum.  The staff inside were extremely friendly. I could say they were just as happy as we were to be there.
“It’s very exciting and reassuring to see that everyone is on board and supporting us.  I am, as are many, simply overjoyed, and can’t wait.”
Al-Fassi said:  “I felt strange going in the front door of the main traffic department, one of the taboo places for women in Saudi Arabia. But I was well received and guided to the licenses section immediately.”
Norah Al-Jaser, an employee at a telecommunications company, has registered in the driving school in Riyadh and hopes to obtain her license soon.  She has recently started attending theoretical driving lessons. “Attending the classes has given me insight into the traffic laws in place. I can see that unfortunately they’re not being implemented by many drivers, but I plan on abiding by the laws.
“I intend following the rules to the letter, or else what would be the point of taking all the necessary theoretical and practical lessons?  The material is very thorough and I believe it’s the most ideal lessons to ensure we succeed and drive safely on our roads.”
Many women plan to hit the road on June 24 and enjoy their new travel independence, without the need for a man to drive them. Others will wait it out for a while, in case the first few weeks on the road are hectic and chaotic.
“After driving for 18 years abroad, I’m elated with the fact I had my Saudi licence issued to me with tremendous ease,” said Najla Redwan, a home business owner and examiner at the Jeddah Advanced Driving School. “I am also an examiner at a school and I would like to drive in my city, Jeddah, which I hope to do soon.
“As an examiner, it’s my job to evaluate students and give them a passing or failing grade before they head to the Traffic and Road Safety Department. But I can see how driven and determined the students are to commit to the material being taught at the school and how much of a burden will be lifted once they get their chance at driving.
“The class has people from all walks of life, but one thing’s for sure, they’re here to learn and are determined to be the best they could be for their sake and the sake of this given right.”
And what will these women do on their first day at the wheel? “I’m planning to drive with my husband and children around Riyadh,” Al-Fassi said. “Celebrating will be the first aim, then I will see where I need to go on that day.”
“The gym and office, of course!” said Ashadawi, with a laugh. “I’m finally going to drive myself to work instead of quarreling with my sister over who takes the driver first.  It’s going to be good and I can’t wait.”


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Saudi Arabia's women drivers get ready to steer their lives

Just five days ahead of women being able to drive in Saudi Arabia, Reuters published this story on June 18, 2018. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted below. Note: I am unable to reproduce the images from the story so you'll have to go to the link to see them.


DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - On June 24, when Saudi women are allowed to drive for the first time, Amira Abdulgader wants to be sitting at the wheel, the one in control, giving a ride to her mother beside her.
“Sitting behind the wheel (means) that you are the one controlling the trip,” said the architect, dressed in a black veil, who has just finished learning to drive. “I would like to control every single detail of my trip. I will be the one to decide when to go, what to do, and when I will come back.”
Abdulgader is one of about 200 women at the state oil firm Aramco taking advantage of a company offer to teach female employees and their families at its driving academy in Dhahran to support the social revolution sweeping the kingdom.
"We need the car to do our daily activities. We are working, we are mothers, we have a lot of social networking, we need to go out - so we need transport," she said. "It will change my life." 
Women make up about five percent of Aramco’s 66,000 staff, meaning that 3,000 more could eventually enroll in the driving school.
Last September, King Salman decreed an end to the world’s only ban on women drivers, maintained for decades by Saudi Arabia’s deeply conservative Muslim establishment.
But it is his son, 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is the face of the wider social revolution.
Many young Saudis regard his ascent to power as proof that their generation is finally getting a share of control over a country whose patriarchal traditions have for decades made power the province of old men.
For Abdulgader, June 24 will be the day to celebrate that change, and there is only one person she wants to share it with.
Slideshow (17 Images)
“On June 24, I would like to go to my mother’s house and take her for a ride. This is my first plan actually, and I would like really to enjoy it with my mother. Just me and my mother, without anyone else.”

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Saudi women drivers to receive 24/7 roadside assistance from Chevrolet

On June 14, 2018, the Saudi English language daily the Arab News reported this story. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted in below.

JEDDAH: Chevrolet Middle East will help to put women in the driving seat by offering its 24/7 roadside assistance service to all female drivers in the Kingdom once the ban is lifted on June 24.
The service will be available to all women regardless of the brand of car that they drive.
Making this program available beyond the standard offer that comes with its new cars for four years, Chevrolet aims to deliver the same level of confidence to all women deciding to join the Kingdom’s driving community.
The roadside assistance program will start once the ban is lifted as part of the decree issued by King Salman.
 

FASTFACTS

Chevrolet’s extended 24/7 roadside assistance will be available for women drivers in KSA for eight weeks from June 24. The service will include recovery after an accident, flat tire changes, courtesy transportation to get drivers home, fuel deliveries of up to 20 liters, recovery after being stuck in sand, emergency towing, and battery-jump starts.

Molly Peck, chief marketing officer at General Motors Middle East, said: “Safety is part of our very foundation at Chevrolet and we continuously work to find ways to deliver on this promise to our customers, their cars, and their security on the road, and KSA is no different. Engrained in the Saudi community for more than 90 years now, we have been a constant companion providing dependable means of transport to both men and women, which is why extending our 24/7 roadside assistance program to all women drivers in Saudi was a natural step for Chevrolet.”
“With our #UpToMe campaign earlier this year, we greeted His Majesty’s announcement with optimism to recognize Saudi women’s new-found possibility to decide, emphasizing that from this June onwards, it’s up to them,” she said. “I am extremely proud that with this move, women exercising their choice to drive in the Kingdom can now have complete peace of mind thanks to the response, security and convenience of our 24/7 roadside assistance program, regardless of what brand of car they decide to drive.”
The regional roadside assistance program already offers 24/7 emergency services to customers across the GCC, Jordan and Lebanon.
In September 2017, a royal decree announced the end of a decades-long ban on women driving.
Saudi women nationwide are counting down to June 24 to make history and take the wheel. Some have already enrolled in driving lessons offered by five Saudi universities, while others exchanged their existing international license with a Saudi one.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Exclusive: Friends to hit the road together as first western women to get their Saudi driving licences

Story by Ashleigh Stewart in The National on June 11, 2018, about the first European and the first American women to get drivers licenses in Saudi Arabia. You can link to the story here, and read the whole article below. Note: the linked story has some great images. I couldn't capture them all here.
 
Laura Alho and Kelly Downing show off their new driving licences in Riyadh. Abdul Ahad for The National.
Laura Alho and Kelly Downing show off their new driving licences in Riyadh. Abdul Ahad for The National.
Sheer determination: that's what friends Kelly Downing and Laura Alho believe got them two of the first driving licences issued to foreign women by Saudi Arabia.
The pair had been keen to get their licences as soon as possible after Saudi authorities announced the ban on female drivers was to be lifted. However, they didn't quite expect to become the first westerners to receive them.
"It still feels very surreal. It's very exciting," Ms Alho told The National. "I have been waiting for this thing forever."
She even owns a jacket with "June 24 2018" — the date she will finally be able to use her new licence — and the corresponding date in the Islamic calendar, embroidered on the back.
The positive impact on Saudi women becoming drivers has been widely acknowledged. But it is also going to influence their foreign compatriots — those who may have already been drivers in their home countries.
Ms Alho is in her 11th year of living in the kingdom. She arrived as a single Finnish woman to take up a nursing job. Now she is married with two children, running a full-time Saudi-focused travel blog.
Ms Downing moved from the suburbs of Washington DC to Riyadh in late 2012, after her Saudi husband finished his MBA. She met Ms Alho through mutual friends months later, and the pair have been excitedly watching the succession of reforms in the country ever since.

Driving licences were issued to 10 Saudi women last Monday, just weeks before Saudi Arabia's ban on female drivers is to be lifted on June 24.
The Ministry of Information said another 2,000 licensed female drivers would join their ranks this week.
"It's been a rapid rise of changes recently," Ms Downing said. "The ways things are currently, I'm very, very happy to be here.
"Having the ability to choose is wonderful, I don't miss going to movies or sports stadiums, but driving has been a big thing for me."
The two friends made sure they were among the first to register when the system for booking appointments opened on May 21. They opened their Absher accounts on the Ministry of Interior website, submitted their documents — including a medical report and translations of their foreign licences — and managed to book the first spots on the first day expats with foreign licences could have their paperwork converted.
"As soon as I saw that the system was up for appointments, I woke my husband before prayer and said I had to do it," Ms Downing said.
"He knew from the beginning that I wanted to be the first, so he helped me navigate the websites and get everything in order and everything submitted correctly."
However, a couple of days later their appointments were cancelled as the system was not ready.
Laura Alho's jacket counts down to the day she'll be able to finally get behind the wheel. Abdul Ahad for The National.
Laura Alho's jacket counts down to the day she'll be able to finally get behind the wheel. Abdul Ahad for The National.
Last Tuesday, they both received messages at night saying their appointments had been scheduled for the next morning.
Ms Downing was scheduled for 11.20am, soon after the traffic department opened, and Ms Alho was scheduled for soon afterwards.
After having their thumbprints taken and licence information entered into the system came a short driving test around a course in the car park. It lasted only a couple of minutes, Ms Alho said. She had to demonstrate a three-point turn and a parallel park as the driving instructor watched from outside, following the car along the course.
"Laura arrived moments after I was handed my licence and it was incredible to hug her and share my happiness in that moment," Ms Downing said.
"It was so straightforward, it was amazing. I was prepared to wait all day if I had to, but everyone was in a great mood. I keep saying it's the best DMV experience I've ever had."
"The guy gave me the thumbs up, but then I went back inside he said to my friend 'you passed' and to me, 'you didn't pass'," Ms Alho said.
"And I said are you serious? He said 'no, of course you passed'."
When they collected their new licences moments later, they asked whether they had indeed managed to be the first expatriates to get their licences. They were told they had, being the first American and first European respectively, with several Saudi women and one Lebanese woman just sneaking in before them that day.
"It felt incredible, I was just so happy. It means so much for my life here. I already have a say in my life because my husband gives me a say, but now I'm independent and I can leave the house without worrying about a driver," Ms Downing said.
Ms Alho agreed. "I think it's a really great time to be here, it's such a historic moment and we've been waiting for so long," she said. "It's going to make such a huge difference in everyday life. You can do spur-of-the-moment things, like going to restaurants or to the park. You always had to plan those in advance before."
And, come June 24, the duo have agreed that, whether it be a road trip or simply taking in the sights of Riyadh, they'll be on the road somewhere, together.