Police officers gave them flowers, fathers gave their blessing and locals marked the moment with humour as Saudi women took to the streets in their cars after the ban on driving was lifted.
As the clock ticked past midnight on Saturday, a group of women who had been granted licences started their engines, some with fathers or brothers alongside, and others in new cars bought for the occasion. Several women shouted with delight. Others cried, and many more took videos of their first forays at the wheel.
The celebratory mood was mostly confined to pockets of Riyadh and Saudi Arabia’s second city, Jeddah, where the few women who have so far been granted licences were being feted as celebrities. Among them was Fadya Basma, a driver for a ride-sharing company, who is one of the first in Saudi Arabia to legally shepherd men around. “It’s a wonderful day,” she said. “And it will change things. Saudi will never be the same again.”
Samar Almogren, a talkshow host and writer, said: “I always knew this day would come. But it came fast. Sudden. I feel free like a bird.”
Saudi luminaries were quick to herald the moment. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, one of the kingdom’s wealthiest men, posted a video at 12.01am local time (10.01pm BST) of himself with his daughter Rim at the wheel. “Mummy is not driving a buggy, but a real car,” he said. “Saudi Arabia has finally entered the 21st century.”
Slogans and messages of support were shared on social media. “Today, you take on the streets, tomorrow, Mars,” said one. “This day will be marked in history,” said another. “Drive – we are with you.”
Aware of the potential for the lifting of the ban to shift views about the rigidly conservative state, much of the lead-up has been heavily stage-managed, with lucrative consultancies offered to craft a message of a grateful people offering thanks to Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.