Saudi women behind the wheel: a voice from Riyadh
Analysis 29 Sep 2017

Saudi women behind the wheel: a voice from Riyadh

Reem Seraj

It is DONE!

Walking down the isle of Tamimi Safeway in Riyadh this morning, I stopped and spoke to a woman who was covered, I reached out my hand and I said “Mabrouk Alayna” “Congratulations to us”.  Although she was covered I could see the smile in her eyes and she shook my hand.  I beamed.  This was my way of acknowledging this day.  Identifying a stranger who was living the joy I was today, and sharing it. 

Last night, out of the blue came a royal decree from King Salman, he stated plainly and openly that women were to be given the right to obtain and driving license just like men.  That they are to be treated equally. 

Let me back up to the actual moment. 

I had received a notice that the King was about to announce a decree from a friend, I asked him to keep me updated as I do not have cable news in my home and rely on the web.  With in moments pictures of Arabic news channels were streaming through to my phone on all forms of social media, I stood in my hallway holding my phone shaking.  I couldn’t move, I was overwhelmed with joy.  You must understand I was never one to harp on about driving, I was content with how things were and I knew when the time was right and the nation was ready we would drive, but it never kept me up at night.  Would I have liked to not be beholden to a driver, yes, but then again I saw the benefits in having one.  Needless to say, no one was more shocked at my own reaction than me.  In my mind I just kept repeating, he did it, He DID IT! It is DONE!

I called my dad and said did you hear the news, and he said what, when I told him the King has decreed women can drive, he was elated, I could hear the laugh of joy in his voice.  I know it can be confusing, everyone thinks we are happy because we can drive, I think its much deeper than that.  We are proud of our country and our King.  His decree changed us over night.  I think my fathers joy was more of one of pride that he is witnessing his country change and move forward.  I called my childhood best friend and we were both crying to each other with joy, she said to me I don’t know what to do with my self, get down on bended knew and thank God, run around and hug everyone, or tell the driver his days are numbered.  The conversations I had were joyous filled with laughter, disbelief, tears and gratitude.  I spoke to one friend who said she was so grateful she would never have to discuss the issue of women driving again with anyone, and she was ultimately grateful to the King for sparing her this ordeal.  This change means so much to us, and is bigger than we know or even understand at the moment, but I wanted to capture the moments I shared history with my loved ones.  For the record, this is just one of the many changes that have been happening in recent months.  The nation is collectively suffering from progression whiplash we are leaping forward so fast. 

I my self am humbled, emotional and oh so grateful.  I am half English half Saudi.  My father is from Mecca, Saudi Arabia and my mother is from Lincolnshire, England.  I was born in England and grew up in Saudi Arabia.  I am a 43 year old bilingual, bi cultural, mother of three English children, married to an Englishman living in Riyadh.  I spent my youth trying to figure out where I belonged, who I was, and discover my identity.  It wasn’t easy as I didn’t have any role models, and the two Kingdoms I come from were and still are vastly different.  But as an adult I realize I am the bridge between two worlds, I can speak with my western brethren in their language and explain Saudi culture, customs and religion, and vise versa.  And when I say their language I don’t mean just plain English or Arabic, for many have language skills, but to know and belong to a culture gives you credit when you pseak of it, when you explain it in a manner that is familiar to the person your conversing with.

When I go home to England I am just a statistic, another mother with three children driving around doing my thing.  But here I make a difference; I have a voice, a mission, and a path to pave for my daughters and their friends.   And the best part about that is, I am not fighting to do it, I am not battling to make the change, I am expected to.  I have a duty to God, to my King and Country to best portray the life I lived here, the opportunities I was given, the safety I grew up in, the values that stitched into the fabric of our society to better portray my self to the west, to the media that makes me out to be some sort of oppressed being. 

Through out history women have fought for their rights, during the 1960’s a woman needed to obtain the permission of her father or brother to open a bank account in the USA.  Women died in the UK to win the right to vote.  Women’s rights and equality is not a new concept anywhere on earth.  But victories come at a price.  Wining the right to vote came after blood shed, ours did not. 

I have always said I was proud to be a Saudi woman because every little thing we achieve has more meaning, its sweeter and the victory is greater.When the time was right, when the nation was ready, it was DONE.  It was a gift. Change is scary but it can be oh so delicious.  Only two days ago the Kingdom celebrated its 87th birthday, and if you ever wondered if we were oppressed, just look up on Youtube what happened all over Saudi that day. 

I am a proud Saudi woman, I am lucky and blessed.  Who in this day and age can say they have had the privilege to know a victory such as this one with out tears or bloody shed, with out wars or revolution? I am living history, watching my country grow, organically and in a way that works for us.  This morning I woke up knowing in ten months I will have a choice.  The country will have had enough time to come to terms with the new laws, and get geared up for it.  It won’t be easy, it will be challenging, but I am Saudi, and if you know anything about this generation of my fellow desert dwellers, we are ready to prove we are up to the task of honoring our God, King and Country. 

You just watch!