A proposal to make it illegal to drive vehicles in the Gulf States while wearing the veil could hamper efforts by Saudi women to drive cars in the Kingdom.
The Directors General of the Gulf Cooperation Council, in its 13th meeting on Monday in Jeddah, considered the draft from Gulf traffic departments as part of a larger effort to outline more specific unified traffic violations for all Gulf States.
While the draft is not a blanket ban on the veil, its passage into law would make it illegal for drivers to cover their faces in front of traffic police officers.
The Oman municipal traffic departments initially brought the issue to the GCC’s interior ministries. The proposal, described as the Gulf Traffic Act, specifies the “burqa,” “Algshawh” or "face veil" as illegal attire to wear while driving. GCC Council members tabled the discussion until its next meeting.
If adopted as a uniform law by the GCC traffic departments, the issue may have a significant impact on Saudi women’s attempts to drive cars anywhere in the GCC. But it would in particular affect potential female drivers in Saudi Arabia since a large portion of the female population wear the veil. Saudi women already drive cars in other GCC countries.
While speaking with Arab News, several Saudi women said it's their right to drive a vehicle with or without the veil.
Buhi Mohammed Khalid cultural adviser at Royal Saudi Embassy in UAE said that more than 50 percent women in UAE drive their own cars.
“I myself drive while covering my face; most of the women drivers, I find here, cover their faces, especially the old aged women drivers,” Khalid said.
“Though the youngsters don’t like to cover their faces, most Arab women cover their faces and drive, so it is not possible that they can put any ban on veil while driving.”
Ala’a Mohammed, another driver, said that women have the right to cover themselves.
“In Saudi Arabia we are not allowed to drive at all,” Mohammed said. “For this reason when Saudi women go to any Gulf country or abroad they drive the car. It totally depends on them whether they drive with the veil or without. Putting a ban on it will not be right.”
Khaloud Asmari, a Saudi student, said that traffic departments should look for a solution to this problem, but not put a ban on the veil.
“It will hurt our culture and traditions,” Asmari said. “Many women were riding horses in Prophet’s era, riding on camels, but we are not allowed to drive our own car.”
Abu Ahmed, a Saudi motorist, said it’s wrong for traffic departments to issue traffic violations to veiled women.
“There are a number of benefits of women driving their own cars as they can do their work by themselves instead of paying half of their salary to drivers every month,” Ahmed said.
Among other proposed traffic violations, the GCC would make it illegal to use a speed detection device that warns drivers of law enforcement speed radars. Vehicles that have a large accumulation of dirt that distorts the vehicle’s appearance and reading while drive also would be illegal.
Brig. Saleh Ahmed, head of the delegation for Kuwait, recommended during the meeting that delegates unite the “irregularities” in the GCC countries by monitoring them through an electronic link. He suggested connecting the driver’s licenses, vehicle ownership and technical maintenance and irregularities to eliminate forgeries among all GCC drivers.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have agreed to pilot an electronic link between the two countries to monitor traffic violations as the first stage of the process, which will lead to linking all GCC countries if the program is successful.
Traffic accidents in the GCC cost about $ 19 billion annually in losses, representing 3.7 percent of the total global losses.