Allowing women to drive is “not a religious issue as much as it is an issue that relates to the community itself that either accepts it or refuses it,” said the 30-year-old prince, who has amassed unprecedented powers since his father, King Salman, ascended to the throne. “The community is not convinced about women driving” and sees negative consequences if it’s allowed, the prince said on Monday after outlining a plan to reduce the kingdom’s reliance on oil.
The prince had signaled his support for more freedom for women during an interview this month, saying “we believe women have rights in Islam that they’ve yet to obtain.” But when asked about the driving ban by a reporter on Monday, he said reform couldn’t be rushed. “Changes could happen in the future and we always hope they will be positive changes,” he said.
Attempts at broad social liberalization could jeopardize the closer ties that the Al Saud family struck with Wahhabi clerics after armed fundamentalists in 1979 seized Mecca’s Grand Mosque and demanded an end to efforts to modernize the Saudi state. Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz bin Abdullah al-Sheikh recently said allowing women to drive was “a dangerous matter that should not be permitted.”
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