In Brief

Saudi woman’s car set on fire amid anger over lifting of driving ban

Arson attack fuels fears of backlash from religious conservatives

Police in Saudi Arabia are searching for a gang of men who reportedly set fire to a woman’s car in protest at the kingdom’s recent lifting of a decades-long ban on women drivers. 

Salma al-Sherif, a 31-year-old cashier, claims she had been threatened and harassed repeatedly by young men in her home village of Samad, near Mecca, after she began driving, reports news website The New Arab. She says they torched her new car after she told them she needed to drive to get to work and to do errands for her elderly parents. 

“The incident is being investigated by security officials,” Mecca police said in a statement. “We are searching for the culprits.”

Many Saudis took to social media to show their support for Sherif, calling the torching a “terrorist attack”.

The lifting of the ban last month was met with praise by international media.

But conservatives in the kingdom feared that allowing women drivers would promote gender mixing and promiscuity. Nevertheless, a majority of the kingdom’s top clerical body, the Council of Senior Religious Scholars, approved the plan.

Some critics claim the policy change was merely a diversion to attract positive international publicity while the kingdom continues to crack down on activists - especially women.

Since the ban was lifted, on 24 June, nearly 120,000 women have applied for driving licences, according to the Saudi Interior Ministry, but it remains unclear how many have been issued. 

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