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Saudi ex-imam of Mecca says women driving stops them 'nagging men'

A prominent Saudi cleric has urged men to accept the end of the ban on women driving in the kingdom as beneficial to them, saying it stops them nagging men for lifts.

In a television appearance on Tuesday, Sheikh Adel al-Kalbani, the ex-imam of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, had words of comfort for Saudi men angered by the end of the ban, saying the protracted debate about the issue has left many of them traumatised and resentful of allowing their female relatives to drive cars.

"By driving cars, women will relieve their male guardians by stopping to ask them for lifts," he said, assuring men that women can drive cars safely and calling on them to agree to be driven by a woman especially in emergencies.

Most Saudi clerics like Kalbani were publicly opposed to permitting women to drive, under a strict interpretation of Islamic law in place in the ulta-conservative kingdom. 

However, many of them had an about-face when the Saudi powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman made ending the ban one of his major policies, in a bid to polish his image in the West and coopt Saudi youths.

Since the end of the ban in 2018, there have been reports of men attacking women drivers in Saudi Arabia. In April, dramatic footage emerged of a Saudi man torching a female relative's car, prompting authorities to intervene.

The attack was the latest in a string of harassment incidents targeting women drivers following a royal decree last year to end the controversial ban on women driving.

 

Despite the end of the ban, conservatives still believe that women should not be allowed to get behind the wheel.

Last July, arsonists torched another woman's car in the holy city of Mecca. 

A man was also arrested last September for allegedly threatening to attack women drivers.

Eleven women activists, some of whom had campaigned for the right for women to drive, are currently facing trial in the kingdom on charges that include contact with foreign media, diplomats and human rights groups.

Some of the activists have accused interrogators of sexual abuse and torture during nearly a year in custody.

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