Two years before this blog was started, a highly-regarded member of the Saudi royal family, Princess Loulwa bint Faisal, the daughter of the Kingdom's beloved King Faisal, was taking part in the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. There, she spoke about the women's driving issue. I'm posting this story now, since I didn't do it before, and I think it's important that this story be included in the blog. I hope that those in Saudi Arabia who are trying to change the law about women driving, know that they have her in their corner. Her older sister Sara is one of the thirty Saudi women serving on the Kingdom's Shura Consultative Council. This story appeared in the Washington Post on January 25, 2007. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted in below.
By SALLY BUZBEE
DAVOS, Switzerland -- The most prominent princess in Saudi Arabia's
royal family said Thursday that if she could change one thing about her
country, she would let women drive _ a rare and direct challenge to the
driving ban imposed by the kingdom's ruling male elite.
remarks from Princess Lolwah Al-Faisal, daughter of a former Saudi king
and sister of the current foreign minister, came at the World Economic
Forum _ a gathering known for getting world leaders to engage in frank,
often off-the-record dialogue without fear of criticism.
however, spoke at a public session on promoting religious tolerance.
Other attendees included former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, the
prime minister of Malaysia, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and peace activist
from Israel and an American cleric.
moderator, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, asked panelists at
one point to "self-criticize" and say what they would change to promote
greater interfaith understanding.
Turning to the princess, he quipped: "What would you do, princess, if you were 'queen' for a day? I won't tell anyone."
thing, I'd let women drive," Al-Faisal said dryly, as the audience
erupted in applause and laughter. She added as the applause died down,
"Or else have a great transportation system, which we don't have."
in Saudi Arabia now can work at many jobs that once were off-limits _ a
point the princess made. But critics say their inability to drive holds
them back from many jobs by forcing them to rely on hired drivers, or
on male relatives, to get to work or to school.
Some critics say
the driving ban particularly impacts poorer Saudi families who cannot
afford to hire drivers. Because of that, some consider the driving ban
not just as a women's rights issue, but also as a factor holding back
the country's economic development.
Al-Faisal's comments are
particularly interesting because they show that while Saudi Arabia often
presents a united front to the outside world, different opinions and
even vigorous debate exist in private.
The 59-year-old princess is
the most publicly visible female member of the royal family and one of
the highest-profile Saudi women. She led a delegation of Saudi women
business leaders to Hong Kong last year, has appeared at U.S. forums on
interfaith dialogue and heads a prominent Saudi women's college.
it is rare for her to speak in public or in front of the media. And she
has never before publicly pushed for an end to the driving ban.
comments also are intriguing because her father, King Faisal, who ruled
from 1964-1975, had a reputation as more progressive on social issues
than his successors.
King Faisal first instituted education for
Saudi girls, for example, in the 1960s, and some have wondered if he
might have pushed for more reform in the conservative, religious kingdom
had he lived longer. He was assassinated in 1975 by a disgruntled royal
When the current monarch, King Abdullah, assumed
the throne in 2005, expectations were high that he would decisively and
quickly lead the country toward more openness. Indeed, for a while,
Saudi Arabia made small but striking steps toward reform, such as
instances where Saudi female journalists were allowed to interview men.
the reform pace has slowed, partly because of reported differences
within the royal family over the pace and direction of change and partly
because of resistance by religious conservatives who fear reform will
dilute their strong influence.
The issue of women drivers has been
mostly dormant from Saudi public debate in recent years. It flared
after the Gulf War in 1991, when a group of prominent Saudi women staged
a protest by driving through the capital of Riyadh. But the government
cracked down hard, confiscating many of the women's passports and thus
preventing them from leaving the country for months afterward.
debate has occasionally flared in newspapers since but never to such an
extent as in 1991. Yet many Saudi women privately view the ban as a
main barrier to progress.
Conservatives, however, are vocal in
pushing to retain the ban _ saying that allowing women to drive would
inevitably lead to their moral corruption, by forcing them to interact
with men who are not relatives in places such as gas stations.
Other Gulf countries, including Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, and other Arab countries allow women to drive.
is a sister of two prominent members of the current government, Foreign
Minister Saud Al-Faisal and Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the outgoing Saudi
ambassador to the United States.