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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 February 2008, 15:46 GMT
Saudi scholars back women drivers
By Roger Hardy
BBC Middle East analyst

Saudi woman getting into a taxi
Saudi Arabia's strict Islamic code still prevents women from driving
Two Saudi scholars have said there is nothing in Islamic law to prevent women from driving.

The senior religious figures said the issue depended on the context.

They say women would need to be protected from harassment and that steps would have to be taken to ensure there was no mingling of the sexes.

An opinion poll published by a leading English-language Saudi newspaper suggests that this is a view supported by most Saudi men and women.

The two scholars are Abdel-Mohsin al-Obaikan - one of Saudi Arabia's senior religious figures - and another well-known cleric, Mohsin Awaji.

Both say that, in principle, Islamic law does not prevent women driving.

Everything depends, they say, on the context.

There are road safety issues. Steps need to be taken to prevent harassment of women drivers.

‘Great fear'

And - the great fear of religious conservatives - having women at the wheel must not lead to mingling of the sexes.

Arab News - the newspaper that has publicised the views of the two scholars - follows up the story with an opinion poll.

This too suggests Saudi men and women see the issue in a practical light - the clear implication being that, if women are to drive, the government should do more to prepare the ground.

Conservatives continue to resist change and dispute the notion that public opinion is against them.

For the moment, the signs are that the authorities are content to watch the debate unfold - without taking sides.

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