Saudi women are now free to drive – but not to speak about it

Old habits die hard.

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Women in Saudi Arabia can finally get driving licences, according to royal decree. While some praised King Salman for catching up with the 19th century, more astute observers credited the Saudi women who had spent a decade risking arrest to protest the ban on women driving. 

Feminists around the world hope the move will be the first of many, a hope fuelled by the comment of a senior Saudi minister that the country was embarking on a "cultural revolution disguised as economic reform". 

Yet it seems some habits die hard. The New Statesman has learnt that many women involved in the driving campaign have been receiving official calls from the government asking them not to comment either negatively or positively on the announcement. If they flout this order, they will be subject to interrogation. 

This is no small threat in a country where the Saudi blogger Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for the crime of arguing for secularism, democracy and human rights. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.