Women have been granted the right to drive in Saudi Arabia. This move has been hailed as a dramatic step forward for the rights of women in the country. Such a hailing only shows how low the bar has been set. But for now, it is a small step forward. It has been difficult for the Saudi clerics to justify banning women from driving. There is no president in the Quran or other places for it. In history, women have been allowed to ride donkeys and it led to no apocalypse.
This new policy has been a part of the balancing act between the Saudi royal family and the Wahabi clerics who both have great influence over the country. The clerics have always defended the driving ban even if their reasons made absolutely no sense. While the clerics might be the total authority on Islam in the country, the economy is under the control of the Royal family. A war between the two sides would see nothing but total chaos. It’s a war that probably neither side would win. The most likely outcome would be some kind of radical movement sweeping the country. Regardless, progress is always moving forward and dragging the world with it – whether it likes it or not.
The winds of change have been blowing through the Kingdom. The current leader and crown prince Muhammad bin Salman is a different kind of leader than his predecessor – and father – King Salman. The younger leader is far more liberal. He, perhaps, sees a different future for the country. The terrible shock of the loss of the oil industry is coming all too quickly. The oil reserves are set to run up about 70 years from now. This estimate assumes an average production rate of 10.2 million barrels per day as reported for 2015. He has already begun trying to diversify the country’s economy by encouraging the private sector to flourish. In addition, there has been some effort to eliminate redundant and unnecessary government jobs.
This move to allow women driver seems aimed at the economic goal of market liberalization. The introduction of women into the world of driving makes it much more possible for them to seek employment. The biggest barrier to it has been the inability of women to get any transportation to a job. This new move has the potential to massively expand the labour pool allowing investment in industry to grow. As it is, only 15% of the workforce is female. There’s much potential to expand once the rest of the female population enters into the production sphere. To facilitate this path even further, the wilaya (male guardianship) system must be dismantled. A totally free movement for potential labour would be invaluable.
Wise observers note that this move has very little to do with concern for the rights of women. The Saudis remain one of the worst human rights abusers in the world. For the moment at least, it seems that capitalism will continue to break down the remainders of the feudal order.