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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 July 2018

Saudi Arabia's first women-only car showroom opens in Jeddah

King Salman ordered an end to the ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia by June

Shoppers flocked to Le Mall in Jeddah on Thursday to check out the kingdom's first car showroom aimed at women.

The new showroom comes after of the landmark ruling to lift the country's driving ban on women by June.

Pink, orange and yellow balloons hung around the mall's showroom as women posed for photos and selfies in front of vehicles.

In a decree issued in September, King Salman ordered an end to the ban on women drivers by June, a conservative tradition that has limited women's mobility.

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Saudi Arabia is the only country that bans women drivers. The royal decree has been hailed as proof of a new progressive trend led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Many young Saudis regard his recent ascent to power as proof their generation is taking a central place in running a country whose patriarchal traditions have for decades made power the province of the old and blocked progress.

"I've always been interested in cars, but we didn't have the ability to drive," said Ghada Al Ali, a customer.

"And now I'm very interested in buying a car but I would like the payments and prices to not be very high."

Saudi Arabia's cost of living has risen after the government hiked domestic gas prices and introduced VAT in January.

The showroom focuses on fuel-efficient cars and provides a team of saleswomen to help their new customer base. The showroom also provides finance options from banks.

The showroom carried signs emblazoned with the slogan "Drive and Shop", a play on words in Arabic, using the female form of the verbs.

"It is known that women are the largest section who shop in malls," said Sharifa Mohammed, who heads the exhibition's saleswomen.

"This whole mall is run by women anyway. All the cashiers are women. Everyone in the restaurants are women."