JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia - Buoyed by recent advances in women's rights, a group of women campaigning for the right to drive in Saudi Arabia, the only country in the world that prohibits female drivers, says it believes the ban will be lifted this year.
The group has collected more than 3,000 signatures in the past five months and is hoping King Abdullah will issue a royal decree before the end of the year giving women the right to drive.
Since taking the throne in 2005, Abdullah has championed women's right to work and often takes official trips overseas with delegations of female journalists and academics. The king has said that he does not oppose allowing women to drive but that society needs to accept the idea first.
"I think the authorities want people to get used to the idea and will lift the ban before the end of the year," said group cofounder Wajeha al-Huwaider, 45, an educational analyst.
Huwaider's group sent petitions in September and December to the king asking him to lift the ban, and it is working on a third. "Every time we gather 1,000 signatures we will send them," she said.
Huwaider and cofounder Fouzia al-Ayouni said they are encouraged by the recent easing of certain strictures on women and statements from senior officials saying the driving ban is more social than religious or political.
In November, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told Britain's Channel 4 news that there was no Saudi law prohibiting women from driving.
"I think they should drive," he said, but added, "For us, it is not a political issue, it is a social issue. We believe that this is something for the families to decide, for the people to decide and not to be forced by the government, either to drive or not to drive."
Saudi Arabia follows a strict form of Islamic law that does not allow women self-guardianship.