Saudi prince calls for ban on women drivers to be lifted

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Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has said it is time for Saudi women to get behind the wheel, calling a ban on female drivers in the kingdom an infringement of women's rights.

Saudi Arabia is the only country to bar women from driving and requires them to have a male "guardian" who can stop them traveling, marrying, working or having some medical procedures.

"Preventing a woman from driving a car is today an issue of rights similar to the one that forbade her from receiving an education or having an independent identity," said the business magnate in a statement.

"They are all unjust acts by a traditional society, far more restrictive than what is lawfully allowed by the precepts of religion," Prince Alwaleed said.

The prince, who is chairman of Kingdom Holdings and has holdings in a number of international companies, including Twitter and Citigroup, said the driving ban was not just a rights issue, but also an economic one.

In a country where more than 1.5 million women need a safe means of transport to get to work every day, allowing them to drive would reduce costs like hiring taxis or foreign drivers, which some see as a violation of Sharia, he said.

"public transport is not, in any event at present, a completely practical means for them, for even Saudi men don't all in all utilization it," said Prince Alwaleed, who is a nephew of Saudi Arabia's King Salman. 

"The best possible arrangement is to permit them to drive." 

To "take into account a component of control", certain limitations for female drivers ought to be set up, for example, obliging them to convey cell phones in the event of a crisis and banning them from driving outside city constrains, the ruler said.