Wed, Feb 11, 2009 - Page 6 News List

Saudi princess says she’s ready to get behind the wheel

AP , RIYADH

The wife of one of Saudi Arabia’s most high-profile and richest men said she’s ready to get behind the wheel if women are ever permitted to drive, highlighting again a contentious issue authorities in this conservative desert kingdom prefer to play down.

Princess Amira al-Taweel, who is one of global tycoon Prince Alwaleed bin Talal’s wives, told the Saudi daily Al-Watan that she already drives when she travels abroad.

“Certainly I’m ready to drive a car,” said al-Taweel, whose husband is a nephew of Saudi King Abdallah and is ranked as the world’s 13th-richest person by Forbes magazine.

“I have an international driver’s license and I drive a car in all the countries I travel to,” she said.

Her answer came after the interviewer noted that her husband had said in a previous interview he would be the first to let his wife and daughter drive if the ban was lifted.

Women in Saudi Arabia are not permitted to drive. Saudi officials usually sidestep the question by saying the issue is a social and not religious one, but over the years a handful of princesses have spoken out in support of driving, including Princess Lolwah Al-Faisal, daughter of the late King Faisal, at the World Economic Forum two years ago.

“I prefer driving a car with my sister or friend next to me instead of being with a driver who is not [related to me],” al-Taweel said in her interview, referring to the drivers women are forced to employ.

The attention the issue receives from Saudi newspapers, which are government-guided, is intermittent. Readers and columnists have over the years debated the pros and cons of women’s driving with no progress being made on the ground.

The kingdom is the only country to bar women — Saudi and foreign — from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers and those who cannot afford the US$300 to US$400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.

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