Many Saudi observers took note earlier this month when one of the kingdom’s best-selling dailies, Al-Riyadh, devoted a long article to exploring how to implement a lifting of the driving ban. One expert, for instance, proposed testing liberalised driving laws in one city at a time. Another suggested that before Saudi women can get licences the public could be conditioned by allowing female foreign residents, including household servants, to drive. This would answer the common complaint, voiced even by conservatives, that the driving ban risks increasing the bigger danger of Saudi women mixing with unrelated men who may not even be Muslims.
Other people interviewed simply said the ban was a silly anachronism and should be dropped forthwith. Such outspokenness is partly because Saudi women are becoming a lot more prominent. They account for 60% of university students and a growing if relatively small part of the workforce. It also reflects exposure to nearby countries such as Kuwait, where women not only drive but are elected to parliament. Last month in nearby Abu Dhabi a Saudi woman drew cheers at a televised poetry contest, reciting impassioned verses against religious bigotry. Earlier this month, audiences in the emirate flocked to watch Faten al-Helw, a lion-taming Egyptian grandmother, put her big cats through flaming hoops.
La pugna entre reformistas y conservadores musulmanes también se ha dado recientemente en Bahrain a propósito de una propuesta de ley para prohibir el alcohol en el país (en la actualidad su consumo es legal en los hoteles, restaurantes y locales designados).