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Saudi Arabia Ends Its Widely Criticized Ban On Female Drivers


Saudi Arabia has now lifted its ban on female drivers. Those who enjoyed the opportunity included Magdalene al-Harbi (ph).


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in foreign language).


She shared a video of her mom with the radio on in the driver's seat.

MAGDALENE AL-HARBI: Honestly, it's been crazy. It's been weird seeing, like, my mom drive around Riyadh by herself without the driver. It feels like a dream come true at last. We're doing it.

MARTIN: She said women who didn't even know each other were congratulating one another. Layla al-Braikan (ph) is a 25-year-old analyst at an investment bank. She and some colleagues drove during a coffee break as men in other cars honked and gave thumbs-up.

LAYLA AL-BRAIKAN: It makes you more independent. And, like, you're able to go to your work, driving and parking your car. It's a very nice change - positive.

INSKEEP: Putting women in the driver's seat is the latest modernization effort led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. To be clear, for all the change, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia remains intolerant of dissent. Several women's rights activists remain jailed on national security charges. But Magdalene al-Harbi loves this moment.

AL-HARBI: Everybody's celebrating it. Everyone's, like, going with the car driving around. They're just so happy. My friends, my sisters, even my dad - he's the first one that's supporting us. Go for it. Drive.

MARTIN: There is one roadblock to this new freedom, though - driving schools now have long waiting lists.

(SOUNDBITE OF HADOUK QUARTET'S "BORA BOLLO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.