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Women can hit the road in Saudi Arabia Female motorists celebrate the end of countrys driving ban
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Women can hit the road in Saudi Arabia Female motorists celebrate the end of countrys driving ban

Women in Saudi Arabia are allowed to drive from today, ending a ban that stained its reputation, kept women subjugated and hindered economic growth.

The move places Saudi women at the centre of a major transformation being spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

There is also a tug-of-war between those agitating for more openings for them and a religious majority that remains wary of changes that could be influenced by the West.

A Saudi woman is pictured with her new driving licence after the country's driving ban ended

A Saudi woman is pictured with her new driving licence after the country's driving ban ended

Celebrations in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia as women are finally allowed to drive after the country's ban was lifted by Crown Prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Celebrations in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia as women are finally allowed to drive after the country's ban was lifted by Crown Prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Hannan Iskandar is pictured driving near her home in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia on Saturday

Hannan Iskandar is pictured driving near her home in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia on Saturday

Women in Saudi Arabia are able to drive for the first time ever as part of a historic move by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Women in Saudi Arabia are able to drive for the first time ever as part of a historic move by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Mabkhoutah al-Mari, 27, shows off her new driving licence after the change in the law today

Mabkhoutah al-Mari, 27, shows off her new driving licence after the change in the law today

It was only a few years ago that religious police enforced an austere interpretation of Islam that banned music of any kind in public, much less the sound of a woman's voice.

They could detain groups of unmarried men and women for simply standing or sitting together. They ensured restaurants and shops closed for daily prayers and waved sticks at women who had their hair or face uncovered.

Unlike previous Saudi monarchs who took cautious steps on reform, King Salman has granted his 32-year-old son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a free hand to usher in dramatic moves.

Allowing musical concerts, opening cinemas, easing restrictions on gender segregation and reigning in the powers of the religious police have all been signature reforms of the young prince.

He's seen as the force behind the king's decision to lift the ban on women driving.

Racer Aseel Al Hamad marked the end of the ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia with a special drive in a Jaguar F-TYPE

Racer Aseel Al Hamad marked the end of the ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia with a special drive in a Jaguar F-TYPE

A moment to celebrate for female drivers who have their licenses as they are finally able to drive in their country

A moment to celebrate for female drivers who have their licenses as they are finally able to drive in their country

A Saudi woman seen practicing to reverse a car in Riyadh back in April ahead of the lifting of a driving ban

A Saudi woman seen practicing to reverse a car in Riyadh back in April ahead of the lifting of a driving ban

A potential female driver is taught by another woman using a simulator car at a training centre in Riyadh 

A potential female driver is taught by another woman using a simulator car at a training centre in Riyadh 

Saudi Arabia began issuing its first driving licences to women in decades earlier this month.

Pink women-only parking spaces have also been set up across the country.

On Friday outside a shopping centre in capital Riyadh, young single men and women walked through an open-air exhibit where Saudi women and traffic police explained the details of handling a car.

A song with a woman's voice blared through the loudspeakers, singing: 'I love you Saudia. My love, Saudia.'

Just four years ago, this government-sponsored event was unthinkable.

'I can say that Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, came at the right time. He is young and motivated,' said Lulwa al-Fireiji.

The 60-year-old quickly clarified that while there was 'nothing wrong' with previous Saudi rulers, now is the time for change.

'I will get a license, but I won't drive right away because the elders are always scared. But the young people are motivated and we need at this time someone like Mohammed bin Salman - motivated, God bless him, and daring. He will move the country (forward) faster,' she said.

Practice has taken many forms, with some women, seen here, putting on helmets to try go-karting at an educational driving even in Jeddah

Practice has taken many forms, with some women, seen here, putting on helmets to try go-karting at an educational driving even in Jeddah

Female drivers have been practicing in the run-up to the driving ban that was lifted at midnight local time in Saudi Arabia 

Female drivers have been practicing in the run-up to the driving ban that was lifted at midnight local time in Saudi Arabia 

Granting women the right to drive is part of a wider blueprint for the future drawn up by the crown prince. The government is pushing Saudis to become less reliant on the government for jobs, handouts and subsidies.

Official statistics show women make up the overwhelming majority of job seekers in Saudi Arabia.

The state cannot create enough public sector jobs to keep up with the pace of Saudis seeking work, so foreigners are being booted out of jobs to make way. Companies must stack their workforce with a minimum number of Saudi nationals or face heavy fines.

To encourage two-income households, Saudi women are taking on jobs that were once reserved for men.

On Sunday, when they start driving, many will no longer need to hire drivers. Women will even be allowed to work as drivers.

Under the crown prince, the message pushed by officials is that Saudi Arabia is modernising, not Westernising.

The prince has branded the reforms a return to 'moderate Islam'. Even the country's ultra-conservative clerics, who for decades warned against allowing women to work and drive, have toed the line with muted statements of support.

Pink women-only parking spaces have been set up across Saudi Arabia

Pink women-only parking spaces have been set up across Saudi Arabia