As it happened: Saudi women get behind wheel as ban lifts
It was an emotional moment for one female driver who took CNN on a journey to her father’s house in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Though she had previously driven in California, her father had never seen her behind the wheel of a car before.
“I’m so happy, there’s no words can explain what I’m feeling right now,” she told CNN has she drove in the darkness to her father’s house in Jeddah.
“I’m just too proud to be doing this right now,” she added.
Since he was elevated to second in line to the Saudi throne a year ago, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has shaken things up in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
He is allowing women to drive and letting them go to sports stadiums, allowing music to be played on streets, permitting outdoor performances and, perhaps very significantly, marginalizing the kingdom's religious police. And Saudis are no longer forced to go to prayer five times a day.
Critics say the changes are merely cosmetic, and note that the government has arrested a number of women in recent weeks who have demanded further reforms.
But the atmosphere does seem more relaxed now than there was a year ago. One Saudi man told CNN that he is no longer to made to feel guilty, like he is being a "bad" Muslim.
For some women, the jubilation at realizing a hard-won freedom Sunday will be tempered by the arrests last month of a number of Saudi rights activists, including some who have played a prominent role in the fight for women's right to drive.
Among the women's rights advocates arrested last month were Loujain Al-Hathloul, who was previously detained for 73 days in 2014 after trying to drive from the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia, and Aziza al-Yousef, 70, one of the country's earliest activists for the right to drive.
Both remain in custody, rights group Amnesty International said Thursday.
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Women might be legally driving for the first time on Sunday -- but that doesn’t mean a woman has never been issued a ticket before.
Manal al-Sharif, who has campaigned heavily for female driving, was issued a ticket after recording herself getting behind the wheel in 2011.
She uploaded the video of herself driving -- seemingly unnoticed -- through the streets of Saudi Arabia's Khobar City, and was subsequently jailed for nine days.
On Sunday, the activist was quick to draw attention to the past violation in a Twitter post.
"The history of Saudi Arabia, since its founding, has been one where the government has been gradually loosening the strings of tremendous conservatism," according to Ali Shihabi, founder of The Arabia Foundation.
Here's the long road the country took to get to this point.
Women’s parking spaces – replete with pink bollards and signage -- were all set for the new drivers.
At the stroke of midnight Sunday, Saudi women were legally allowed to drive for the first time – and they wasted no time getting behind the wheel. Here are some photos from Khobar city and Riyadh.
One of the kingdom's most recognizable royals, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, praised the end of the ban early Sunday, as his daughter Reem Alwaleed got behind the wheel to drive her father and her children through the streets of Riyadh.
Alwaleed, a grandson of Saudi Arabia's founder, King Abdulaziz Al Saud, built his investment firm into a global powerhouse. His personal fortune is estimated at more than $17 billion.
He was arrested last year as part of a so-called "anti-corruption" sweep by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and detained for several months at the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton, along with hundreds of other members of Saudi's business elite, including more than a dozen princes and other top officials. He was released in January.
Before Saudi women could take the roads for the first time, they practiced their driving in go-karts or simulators at special events held across the country.
Across the street from the dancing neon lights of Jeddah’s Red Sea Mall, women like 22-year-old Rawan Ahmed got behind the wheels at a go-kart track.
The young woman was instructed to tuck in her head scarf before putting on the helmet.
Ahmed told CNN she was a bit concerned about driving on the highways. Not afraid, just cautious, she added.
“Ninety percent (of people) accept women driving,” she said. "They chose the right time to allow women to drive. I feel this is the most appropriate time."