Conservatives have long used the driving issue as a way to prevent women from becoming fully integrated into society. And for fifty years, successive Saudi governments avoided lifting the ban for fear of inflaming conservative opinion. Therefore, the crown prince took a very bold step in initiating this decision. The end of the ban is a social and cultural turning point for the kingdom because it has broken a wedge issue for conservative opposition to women’s empowerment. The end of the ban will also have a clear economic impact. First, it will increase female participation in the workforce which will lead to higher levels of consumer spending. Second, it will decrease foreign remittance outflows by lowering the kingdom’s dependence on foreign drivers. Women in Saudi Arabia are ecstatic over the lifting of the ban although the change will almost certainly benefit younger women more than the older generations. It is unfortunate that the government arrested women driving activists immediately prior to the end of the ban. The need to balance conservative and liberal interests may have played a role here. It is important to remember that, immediately prior to announcing the end of the ban last autumn, the government arrested dozens of clerics. Arresting these activists now may be a signal to progressives not to push too fast for too many political freedoms in what remains a highly-polarized and politically-sensitive environment. Social and cultural change is always risky and stressful for a society and the Saudi government is grappling with how best to enact needed transformation while trying to balance the interests of all of its constituencies. Inevitably, the government will make some right decisions and some wrong decisions.


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