Yet the sort sort of industries Prince Mohammed wants to lure to Saudi Arabia to wean it off its oil dependency are unlikely to come to a country with major strictures on women. Saudi women also need a guardian’s consent to receive a passport, travel outside the country or marry. A 2015 gender gap index by the World Economic Forum ranked Saudi Arabia as among the worst countries to be a woman, placing it at 134 out of 145 nations.
King Abdullah had expanded the rights of women in the world’s biggest oil exporter before his death in early 2015. Amid opposition from traditionalist clerics and their followers, the late king opened the first coeducational university, named the first female deputy minister and said women can vote and run in municipal polls. Many Saudi women want more rapid change.
“We were very disappointed,” said Muneerah Sulaiman, a 26-year-old lawyer in Riyadh, after the prince’s comments on Monday. “I don’t understand the argument of people who appose it on religious grounds,” she said. “How is it OK to have a strange man drive women around, which is against Islamic teachings, but not OK to drive yourself around? It doesn’t make any sense.”