Princess would give Saudi women license to drive

Too bad the decision isn't up to her.

Published January 25, 2007 8:00PM (EST)

From the "one small step for womankind" department, the Associated Press reported that Princess Lolwah Al-Faisal, the most prominent female of the Saudi Arabian royal family, said if she were to change one thing about her country it would be to let women drive. What's more interesting is that she didn't leak it to one of her royal sisters, but declared it publicly at a panel of the World Economic Forum.

Sitting here in a country where even in the days of the horse and buggy, women were allowed to hold the reins, it's hard to see the radicalism of such a statement. After all, the princess is a public personage who has occupied a place of privilege since her birth. Maybe her outspokenness will be tolerated like so many contradictions of the Saudi royal family -- indulging in the "sins of the West" (wine, women and media) yet enforcing freakishly rigid religious law on everyone else. As vice chairwoman of the Board of Trustees and general supervisor of a women's college, the 59-year-old princess travels the world, leading delegations of Saudi women business leaders and speaking at U.S. forums on interfaith dialogue. She's also someone who has always been close to, if not at the center of, power. (Her father was King Faisal, who ruled for 11 years before being assassinated; her brothers are Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal and Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the outgoing Saudi ambassador to the United States.)

But the fact that her remarks were uttered on the world stage suggests that she's a woman who should be accorded a measure of respect beyond her title. Recently, women have been allowed to enter more and more professional fields in Saudi Arabia, but the ban on women driving remains a crippling form of daily oppression. Not for Al-Faisal -- who, like other royalty, can depend on a personal chauffeur -- but for less than affluent Saudi Arabian women who cannot get around without a male family member driving them.

So, you go Your Highness. Whether out of a sense of women's rights or a little empathy for the poor, we'll be rooting for you.

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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