Updated: 27/09/17 : 07:05:46
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World :: Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive

Saudi Arabia's King Salman has issued a decree allowing women to drive for the first time, to the joy of activists.

The Gulf kingdom is the only country in the world that bans women from driving.


Until now, only men were allowed licences and women who drove in public risked being arrested and fined.

Praise for the move has been pouring in from inside the Saudi kingdom, as well as around the world. US President Donald Trump said it was a "positive step" towards promoting women's rights.

Campaigner Sahar Nassif told the BBC from Jeddah that she was "very, very excited - jumping up and down and laughing".

"I'm going to buy my dream car, a convertible Mustang, and it's going to be black and yellow!"

The country's US ambassador, Prince Khaled bin Salman, confirmed that women would not have to get male permission to take driving lessons, and would be able to drive anywhere they liked.

He said it was "an historic and big day" and "the right decision at the right time"

Because of the law, many families have had to employ private drivers to help transport female relatives.

Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul, who was detained for 73 days in 2017 for flouting the ban, tweeted "thank God" following the announcement.

Not everyone reacted positively, however, with conservative voices accusing the government of "bending the verses of Sharia".

"As far as I remember, Sharia scholars have said it was haram (forbidden) for women to drive. How come it has suddenly become halal (permissible)?" one critic tweeted.

Others emphasised that despite the latest development, Saudi Arabia remains a long way off gender equality.

Amnesty International's Philip Luther said it was "just one step", adding: "We also need to see a whole range of discriminatory laws and practices swept away in Saudi Arabia."