Muslim women driving - not in Saudi Arabia (illustration)
Muslim women driving - not in Saudi Arabia (illustration) Serge Attal/Flash 90

Women in Saudi Arabia are banned from driving by the Muslim kingdom, and a new deal by the government with the Uber car service that is seen as exploiting their lack of rights has ignited an online protest.

Uber announced last week it had received a $3.5 billion investment from the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia to help the ride-hailing application expand overseas, reports The New Arab on Monday.

The deal essentially means that the Saudi kingdom now has a business stake in Uber and will make a profit on its activities in Saudi Arabia - where women are banned from driving and are therefore forced to rely on services like Uber.

Saudi women slammed the move on Twitter, arguing that the kingdom will now be "taking advantage of their plight." The Arabic-language hashtag #SaudiWomenBoycottUber has been trending heavily, reports The New Arab.

"Saudi women are like cattle for transportation companies. The head of the company thinks the ban on women driving is a blessing for them," one user wrote using the hashtag handle, as translated by the news site.

Another complained that "when women are denied the most basic rights and people move in to profit at their expense then women have all the right to boycott as long as this issue is being exploited."

"Saudi women will not let their deprivation be exploited to make everyone else rich," added one user, while another wrote, "I have deleted the app."

Uber spokesperson Jill Hazelbaker spoke with the New York Times after the deal was announced, and defended the move by saying Uber's services provide a good transportation option for Saudi women.

"Of course, we think women should be allowed to drive," said Hazelbaker. "In the absence of that, we have been able to provide extraordinary mobility that didn’t exist before - and we're incredibly proud of that."