Tuesday Saudi King Salman issued a decree which will finally allow women the right to drive themselves, rather than having a male guardian drive them, starting next June. From the NY Times:

The royal decree, read by an announcer of state television and signed by King Salman, said traffic laws would be amended, including to allow the government to issue driver’s licenses “to men and women alike.”

The decree said a high-level ministerial committee was being formed to study other issues that needed to be addressed for the change to take place. For example, the police will have to be trained to interact with women in a way that they rarely do in Saudi Arabia, a society where men and women who are not related have little contact.

The committee has 30 days to provide its recommendations, the decree said, so that the new policy can be carried out starting on June 24.

The Guardian reports that there has already been a crackdown on some opposition to the change:

Earlier this month, a Saudi cleric was banned from preaching after saying that women should not be allowed to drive because their brains shrink to quarter the size of a man’s when they go shopping.

The move had been widely anticipated amid a transformation of many aspects of Saudi society that has been branded by one senior minister as “cultural revolution disguised as economic reform”. Recent months have seen live concert performances in Riyadh – albeit to male-only audiences – while the powers of the once-omnipresent religious police have been curtailed.

The Saudi Arabia’s economy is not what it used to be since the decline in world oil prices. In order to keep its economy strong, the Saudis have initiated a reform plan which is aimed at increasing the number of working women. Allowing women to drive themselves is one critical element of that plan. From CNN:

The move to ease restrictions on women has huge implications for the Saudi economy and women’s ability to work. It is just the latest in a series of changes that have been rippling through Saudi Arabia since the rise of 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The crown prince, known casually as “MBS,” is spearheading an ambitious plan to reform and transform the Saudi economy by 2030 and, in line with that goal, increase the number of women in the workforce. Bin Salman, who was appointed by his father to the position of crown prince in June, is seen as a major power in the country and is expected by many to be named king before too long.

Of course, one reason for the low price of oil is strong U.S. oil and gas production. In May I wrote about OPEC begging the U.S. to slow down our production and allow prices to rise. So in some sense, U.S. energy production is driving (couldn’t resist) Saudi cultural reform.

This Frace 24 clip from June gives an up-close portrait of some of the very recent changes taking place in Saudi Arabia, from comedy clubs to concerts. Watching this it’s clear, even after the removal of the driving ban today, it’s clear the country has a long, long way to go: