This opinion piece on the English language daily the Saudi Gazette of January 27, 2016 was written by Tareq A. Al-Maeena. A link to his article is here, and the text is pasted in below.
Many Saudi visitors to the UAE on their return to the
Kingdom are heard to mutter: Why them and why not us? The country has
in recent times become a draw for Saudis wanting to escape abroad for a
short holiday. Tourists have been flocking to the UAE by the hundreds of
thousands. And they don’t visit only once. Families make up the bulk
of visitors, but there are also a sizable number of single males and
females who venture to the Emirates on their own.
What is it that attracts these visitors from a nearby country? It is
certainly not the weather as there are no significant climatic
differences between the two countries. Nor is there a dramatic change
in topography that might induce some to visit. Shops and restaurants
are not much different in both countries. Yet in the balance of travel,
visitors from the Saudi side most likely outnumber their UAE
counterparts by 10 to 1.
There are significant reasons why Saudis would make the trip from the
Kingdom to the UAE. The first is that they find the UAE more similar
than different from their own culture. And besides a host of other
reasons such as world class entertainment, there is the compelling draw
of a country that places no unjustified restrictions on its women.
A resident of Jeddah explained her own reasons why she chooses the
UAE during the holidays rather than spending her time in the Kingdom.
She says: “It’s all about personal freedom. The UAE is an Islamic
country which follows a similar code to Saudi Arabia, yet allows women
choices that we find denied here. And the number one irritant and
nuisance to all women here is not allowing them to drive their own
cars. Perhaps we can attempt to get a discussion going in the Shoura
Council pertaining to this matter by using a different logic; perhaps
the argument of conservation?”
Her novel argument went as follows: “The fastest and least expensive
way to conserve water and other resources in Saudi Arabia and save some
of our outbound tourist dollars would be to allow women to drive! Where
is the connection? Allow me to give an explanation in a very rough
estimate of figures: If women were given the right to drive,
approximately one million drivers could eventually be sent back to their
home countries. Each one of these men uses about 300 liters of water a
day, (about 1/3 cubic meter).
That’s 300,000,000 liters per day for a million drivers. That’s
90,000,000,000 liters per year, with allowances made for their vacation
time. That’ 90,000,000 cubic meters per year of water consumed by
“The desalination plant in Saudi Arabia produces 1,000,000 cubic
meters of water per day. That’s 365,000,000 cubic meters a year. If we
had a million less drivers we would only need 275,000,000 cubic meters.
The Shuaiba desalination plant would thus have 25 percent surplus water
for people to use if women could drive their own cars. Double check the
“The same approximate figures would hold true for electricity consumption.
Even if drivers were to be slowly phased out, this would amount to an
enormous saving for the country in terms of water, energy, and of course
finances as well. The employment of drivers is becoming an increasing
financial burden. Some women’s salaries are spent solely on a driver.
Should women then not receive government subsidies for each
household, as compensation for the expenses of having to pay recruiting
agencies, visas, air fare, medical check-ups, driver’s licenses, traffic
tickets, extra living quarters, furniture, insurance, meals, medical
bills and medication, and of course water and electricity, etc., in
addition to drivers’ salaries?
“What a huge financial burden for a country with a shrinking middle
class, and with minimum wages not much higher than that paid to a driver
brought in from a developing country, many of whom have never driven a
car before coming to work in Saudi Arabia. That brings up the safety
issue as well: safety on the road, safety allowing one’s children day in
and day out in the presence of a stranger.
“Which leads me to my next point. The burden of women being banned
from driving is also of a psychological and social nature. How has a
conservative society such as Saudi Arabia ever allowed itself to bring
total strangers into their homes, not knowing the slightest thing about
their past, or their moral conduct? It’s a mystery. The whole issue of
the ban on women driving is a mystery and a paradox. And you wonder why
we all escape to the UAE? Perhaps it’s because they have got it
And thus the woman concludes her argument with new reasoning. The
fact that she has chosen an original slant to a social issue indicates
that this issue will simply not go away. Nor will those marginalized by
these restrictions remain silent. The issue should not be blanketed by
the traditions and beliefs of some. One must not be dismissive of her
arguments but look at the overall impact through the eyes of this woman.
– The author can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena