Two men arrested for setting Saudi woman’s car on fire

The woman said she had faced abuse by men from her neighbourhood after she began driving



An image of the blaze posted on social media

Authorities in Saudi’s Makkah arrested two men on Wednesday accused of a setting a woman’s car on fire.

The owner of the vehicle had claimed the arson was committed by men opposed to the kingdom’s historic lifting of its female driving ban on June 24.

Read: Saudi women take to the roads at midnight as driving ban ends

State-run Saudi Press Agency reported late Wednesday that two residents of Jmom province, where the crime took place, were arrested.

Police confirmed one of the men bought gasoline at a garage and asked the other to help him start the fire, according to SPA.

The case was referred to the public prosecution in preparation for court proceedings.

The car’s owner, cashier Salma Al-Sharif, was informed of the arson by her father after a neighbour came to their door before dawn on Monday, according to local reports.

She claimed the blaze was deliberately started by men “opposed to women drivers” and said prior to the incident she had faced abuse by men from her neighbourhood after she began driving.

Before the lifting of the driving ban, the woman said she had been forced to spend half of her SAR4,000 ($1,067) monthly salary on a driver to take her to work and transport her elderly parents.

“But from the first day of driving I was subjected to insults from men,” she was quoted as saying.

The incident drew messages of support for Al-Sharif from Saudis including members of the kingdom’s consultative Shoura Council.

The right to drive is expected to open new employment opportunities to women and could add $90bn to econmic output by 2030, according to Bloomberg Economics.

Read: Saudi receives 120,000 applications for female driving licences

A survey by recruitment firm GulfTalent found the availability of higher paying jobs requiring travel between offices and work further from home were among the key employment opportunities expected by women after the ban was lifted.

Read: Saudi women expect new job opportunities after lifting of driving ban

The company found 28 per cent of respondents planned to drive immediately, 54 per cent in a few months, 12 per cent were still not decided and 6 per cent would not drive.

Other research has indicated women could take longer to get behind the wheel.

Professional services firm PwC said in a March report that just 20 per cent of women in the kingdom are expected to drive by 2020.

Read: PwC says just a fifth of women in Saudi will drive by 2020

A backlog of applicants at the existing driving schools, and a lack of institutions in nine regions to date, may also limit numbers to begin with.