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Saudi cleric warns women to dress modestly while driving

Saudi Arabia will lift the ban on women driving on Sunday [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 June, 2018

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A Saudi cleric has warned that women must wear modest clothing while driving a day before the kingdom lifts the world's only ban on women driving.

A Saudi cleric has warned that women must wear modest clothing while driving a day before the kingdom lifts the world's only ban on women driving.

Sheikh Saleh al-Maghamsi made the remarks on Saturday, semi-official news website Sabq reported.

"Women must know that being allowed to drive will help her fulfill their needs and achieve their goals," Maghamsi was quoted as saying.

"They must maintain modest dress and adorn themselves with decency," he added.

The comments come a day before Saudi Arabia will lift the ban on women driving, a milestone for women who have had to rely on drivers, male relatives, taxis to get around.

The lifting of the ban, long derided as the most visible symbol of women's repression in Saudi Arabia, is expected to be a life-changing experience for many, freeing them from the dependence on male chauffeurs or relatives.

However, in a nation torn between modernity and tradition, the reform has evoked nervousness about the reaction of arch-conservatives who spent decades preaching that allowing female motorists would promote promiscuity and sin.

The government has preemptively addressed concerns of sexual harassment - with a prison term of up to five years and a maximum penalty of 300,000 riyals ($80,000).

The government has permitted a handful of female driving schools in big cities, but many women complain that female instructors are in short supply and that classes are expensive.

The kingdom earlier this month began for the first time in decades issuing driving licences to women, with some swapping their foreign permits for Saudi ones after undergoing a practical test.

Also testing nerves is the government's sweeping crackdown on women activists who long opposed the driving ban.

Authorities have said that nine of 17 arrested people remain in prison, accused of undermining the kingdom's security and aiding enemies of the state.

Rights groups have identified many of the detainees as women activists who campaigned for the right to drive and end the system of male "guardians" - fathers, husbands or other relatives, whose permission is required to travel or get married.

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