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Saudi Princess Lobbies For Women's Right To Drive

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Transcript

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

The uprisings in the Arab world this year have erupted along Saudi Arabia's borders. The kingdom has been largely untouched by the protests, but they may have helped inspire a quieter revolt. This summer we've been following a campaign by Saudi women for the right to drive. Activists have posted videos of themselves driving. And last month a few dozen women defied their country's ban and drove on the same day in daylight.

One of the most outspoken voices on women's rights in Saudi Arabia is�Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel. She's married to Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal, one of the richest men in the country. And we've reached her in Cannes, in France.

Good morning.

Princess AMEERAH AL-TAWEEL: Good morning, Mary Louise. How are you?

KELLY: I'm well. Thank you.

So tell me. Why are you speaking out against the driving ban?

Princess AL-TAWEEL: Not only myself, but I think every Saudi woman is trying her best to be treated equally and to acquire her own rights in the country. And for myself I think that there's nothing in the religion against women driving. So, I think that this supposedly taboo or ban should be lifted and women should drive in Saudi Arabia.

KELLY: What is your sense in terms of how ready the country is for this? This has been something that women in Saudi Arabia have campaigned for for years. Do you sense that there actually might be an opening now for things to change?

Princess AL-TAWEEL: Oh, definitely. I think the whole world is changing and we are a mobilized world and we are a connected world, and we should adopt to that. And for me, I think that driving is more and more possible. Women in Saudi Arabia are very educated, very smart, very opinionated, and they want to change for the generations to come. So I don't see us going back.

KELLY: And I gather that the driving ban is just one of the issues you would like to see addressed. What else would you like to see Saudi women doing?

Princess AL-TAWEEL: Oh, we have many goals to reach. We would like more fields in the workforce for women. We want women to be more involved in the legal system. And, of course, we would like more fields in education for women. And for us, those are definitely most important priorities, even more important than driving.

KELLY: Help us understand where King Abdullah may be on these issues. You know him personally. He is your husband's uncle. How flexible do you think he's willing to be?

Princess AL-TAWEEL: I mean I can't speak on behalf of King Abdullah. I do know that he is for women empowerment because he did make it easier for women to start their own businesses. And he has supported women to have more fields, like the financial sector, the health care sector, and the educational sector. So he has made many steps to empower women, including allowing women to work in lingerie shops - the recent decision made by the king. And I know...

KELLY: In lingerie shops.

Princess AL-TAWEEOH: Yes. I know that the king is for empowering women. Nevertheless, when it comes to driving, it is a societal issue. But most of the society is for women driving. And those who are not for women driving should -nobody, you know, is saying you should go out and start driving.

KELLY: You're obviously speaking from a position where you might not suffer the same consequences as an ordinary Saudi woman might, who is trying to exercise the right to drive or the right to work, or a better education. I mean realistically, what do you think Saudi women should be doing to try to push for these reforms?

Princess AL-TAWEEL: Well, first of all, I come from a common family. I've been a common girl most of my life. And my mother, my aunties go through what every ordinary Saudi woman goes through. I know what it feels like. Nevertheless, I am very optimistic about the future. If you look back at Saudi Arabia 10 years ago, it was a taboo for a woman to work. And now it's a taboo for women to stay home.

KELLY: How do you respond to some people in Saudi Arabia, critics of your work and of some of these reforms that you're suggesting?

Princess AL-TAWEEL: Well, they can criticize as long as they want and we are not trying to take the rights of others. We are trying to acquire our own rights, peacefully. We want evolution not a revolution.

KELLY: Well, thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

Princess AL-TAWEEL: Well, thank you so much for having me on your show.

KELLY: That's Saudi Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel. She's vice chair of the board of her husband's foundation the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation, which supports, among other things, women's rights.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

You heard Princess Ameerah mention a recent decision by Saudi King Abdullah to allow women to work in lingerie shops, a move that was seen as a victory for equal rights. But this week, the country's Labor minister announced that women will be blocked from about 20 jobs, including construction work, mining, and metal refinery.

KELLY: The ban does not apply to foreign women living in Saudi Arabia. The Labor minister said Saudi women have every right to work and that the new regulations are meant to protect women. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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