Thursday, June 30, 2011

ABC News: Women drivers arrested; then released

ABC News reporter Lama Hasan files this story about the five women reportedly taken into custody for driving. She says that those doing the arresting were the mutawa'in, members of the CPVPV, the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, Saudi Arabia's 'Vice Squad'. Note that it wasn't the traffic or civil police. The link to the story is here and the text is below.

Saudi Women Arrested for Defying Driving Ban - Lama Hasan, ABC News
June 29, 2011

Five Saudi women who dared to break the driving ban by getting behind the wheel were arrested for a few hours and then released by the Kingdom's muttawas, or religious police, in the Red Sea coast city of Jeddah.

To gain their release, the women, along with their legal male guardians, had to sign a pledge declaring they would not drive again.

In what is being described as "dramatic" night time raids, police detained one of the women as she was driving in the city. She was reportedly surrounded by four police cars and taken into custody.

According to a conservative Saudi news website, her car was also confiscated. The other four were first accused of defying the ban and then arrested.

Galvanized by the recent revolutions in the Arab world, the organization Saudi Women for Driving, a coalition of leading Saudi women's rights activists, released a statement that read,

"The Saudi police decided to wait a few weeks before cracking down in the hope that international attention on the ban on women driving would subside."

The law in the Kingdom does not actually prohibit women from driving but there are fatwas, or religious edicts, which follow Wahabism, a strict form of Islam that follows the Koran literally and has been in place for centuries. It is the muttawas who police the streets and enforce those edicts in the country.
It is the first time the muttawas cracked down on women drivers since women's rights campaigner and single mother Manal Al Sharif was arrested for driving in May this year and remained behind bars for nice days. Al Sharif is one of five organizers who set up the facebook group "Women2Drive" page, launched a nationwide campaign calling on all women across the country to drive on June 17. Dozens of women across the country hit the streets, some documenting their audacious act and posting their videos on YouTube.

The Saudi women have been tirelessly trying to reverse these laws to enable women to drive so that they can have more freedom and no longer have to rely on their male guardians to commute.
Eman Al Nafjan, a Saudi women's rights blogger and college teacher, is one of them. She spoke of her frustration, telling ABC News, "Do you know how difficult it is for me? I am 32 years old, a mother of three, teaching college students, and I am trusted to teach but not trusted behind the wheel just because I don't have the right genitals?''

Al Nafjan is working on getting the voices of other women heard and finding a platform for their organization (http://www.change.org). She told ABC News that the ''local media deny we exist.''

Will these recent arrests deter women from driving and force them to drop their quest?

Not according to the Saudi Women for Driving campaign, who have defiantly said the women will continue their efforts to pave the way for female drivers and lifting the ban in the Kingdom: "If Saudi police think arresting women drivers is going to stop what has already become the largest women's rights movement in Saudi history, they are sorely mistaken. On the contrary, these arrests will encourage more women to get behind the wheel in direct defiance of this ridiculous abuse of our most basic human rights."

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Five Saudi women drivers arrested, says activist

The Guardian Newspaper in the UK reports today that Saudi women have been arrested in Jeddah for driving. The story is below, and the link is here

One of the women taking part in the campaign to overturn Saudi Arabia's ban on women drivers. There have been five arrests in Jeddah, according to an activist - the identities of those detained were not stated. Photograph: Fahad Shadeed/Reuters

Five Saudi women drivers arrested, says activist
Campaigner says detentions in Jeddah are first significant action by authorities against women who are challenging ban
 
At least five Saudi women have been arrested after defying the kingdom's ban on women drivers, an activist has said.

For the past two weeks Saudi women have been driving through the capital, Riyadh, and other cities in a challenge to the ban.

Eman al-Nafjan, a Saudi-based rights activist, told the Associated Press that police detained five women on Tuesday as they drove in Jeddah on the Red Sea coast. There was no new information on the status of the detainees.

"This is the first big pushback from authorities it seems," Nafjan said. "We aren't sure what it means at this point and whether this is the start of a harder line by the government against the campaign."

Saudi women involved in the campaign have said they want the restrictions lifted in a country where women can only appear in public escorted by a male relative.

Saudi Arabia has no written law barring women from driving – only fatwas, or religious edicts, issued by senior clerics following a strict brand of Islam known as Wahhabism.

The group Saudi Women for Driving has said its campaign is inspired by the Arab uprisings against autocratic rulers and appealed for high-level western backing.

The US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has praised the protesters, while stressing they are acting on behalf of their own rights and not at the behest of outsiders like herself.

The Saudi protests have put the Obama administration, and Clinton in particular, in a difficult position, with Saudi Arabia being a close US ally. The administration supports greater freedom for Saudi women but is increasingly reliant on Saudi authorities to provide stability and continuity in the Middle East and Gulf amid uprisings taking place across the Arab world.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Jeddah woman driver accelerates campaign


 Alsharifa Lana Engawi drives around the Al-Shatea roundabout in Jeddah on Friday. (AN Photo)

Rima al-Mukhtar of the Arab News reports on June 24, 2011, that women in the Kingdom continue to drive, making videos of themselves, then tweeting about it on-line. In Jeddah, the police have not been arresting women, but a woman in al-Khobar was arrested. There is no harassment from people on the street, confirming that society is accepting their efforts. However an Islamic ‘Dawa’ (“Call”) group issued a statement that it is against Islamic law. The tactic the women are advising now is that the women get international driver’s licenses, which legally are accepted in the Kingdom.  A link to the story here, full text below.

Jeddah woman driver accelerates campaign
By RIMA AL-MUKHTAR | ARAB NEWS
JEDDAH: The Women2Drive campaign continued down a rocky road with some sustaining the campaign a week after it was launched with sporadic efforts on Friday. Meanwhile a dawa (Islamic propagation) group, in Riyadh made clear its belief that women driving cars is against Islamic principles.

On Friday, stay-at-home mom Alsharifa Lana Engawi took to the Jeddah streets in a Range Rover to visit her father without any issues. But Layla Aldabbagh in Alkhobar posted on Twitter that police stopped her when she was driving with her male guardian: her father.

For the past week Saudi women have been posting videos and pictures themselves driving on social media sites.

Twitter and Facebook was alight with discussion -- mostly in Arabic -- among Saudi women over the past couple of days regarding how to obtain international drivers' licenses. Women2Drive organizers have recommended that only women with licenses that are recognized in Saudi Arabia engage in driving. Saudi Arabia does not issue driving licenses to women leaving only the international license, which can be obtained through travel agencies, as the legal option. However there have been reports that travel agencies have stopped taking international driving license applications.

Women2Drive organizers has also been careful to say this is a call for individual women to decide to drive rather than an act of mass protest. The group also advises women to be dressed accordingly so as to not give any other precedent for punitive action.

Arab News rode with Engawi, the stay at home mom, as she drove around her neighborhood and passed by her father’s house in Shatea district on Friday at around 5:30 p.m.

“I’m just doing this to support women in this issue," she told Arab News as she drive down the  Conriche within eyesight of families strolling by the Red Sea on a calm Friday afternoon. "They need our help and this campaign is all about standing together to earn our right to drive. When I drive I feel that I’m free and in control of my life. Sometimes I feel like I have to get things done all by myself and this is what I’m aiming for.”

Engawi lived abroad for 12 years: “I have driven there, and I was free to start my engine when I needed to. When I came here I felt that I was tied up with a driver who is not always free when I need him.”

On the street, drivers didn’t bother to look at the women behind the wheel. The ride went smoothly with no harassment.

“People don’t care who is driving," she said. "And Saudi society is supportive of this cause. I think only a few people are against this, not the whole society. I believe the Saudi street and traffic environment is ready for women to drive."

Aldabbagh wrote on her Twitter feed: “Police want me to go down to the station and pledge not to drive again. They're taking me to police station to make me take this pledge while also giving me a ticket for driving without a license.”

Twitter was also abuzz on Friday with Saudi women discussing the kind of cars they would be buying soon when the permission for women to drive is given.

“Who cares what car? It's the right to drive is what matters, any car would do,” wrote Layla Ahmed from Riyadh. “All I care about is that the car has a good air conditioning.”
Meanwhile, the Altawouni office for Islamic propagation in Riyadh's Rawdah district has been distributing flyers and posters at mosques all over the capital city claiming that it is taboo in Islam for women to drive. The statement cited seven reasons why women should be forbidden from driving.

“Those regulations are sourced from senior religious scholars in Saudi Arabia," said the spokesperson of Altawouni. "We have more than one person working in our research office. The researchers read Sunnah books and books by senior religious scholars to give clear rulings on the issue and then we distribute the rulings in mosques for everyone’s benefit.”


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Saudi Women Press Subaru to Exit Over Ban

Bloomberg reports that the Saudi women's group, Saudi Women for Driving, is trying to get Subaru to pull out of the Kngdom. The story is below and the link to the story is here

Saudi Women Press Subaru to Exit Over Ban

A group campaigning for an end to Saudi Arabia’s ban on driving by women called on Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. (7270)’s Subaru cars unit to pull out of the kingdom until the prohibition is lifted.
Today’s announcement follows U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s support yesterday for an appeal by the group, Saudi Women for Driving, which organized a show of defiance by women who drove in Saudi Arabia on June 17. Clinton called them “brave,” saying, “I am moved by it and I support them.” The activists had questioned Clinton’s silence over their June 3 letter asking for her backing.
“It is our hope that this will put huge pressure on the Saudi royal family and shine a bright light on the ‘gender apartheid’ in our country,” the group said of its call for Subaru to exit the kingdom. “It’s a chance for the company to live up to its brand and make a huge difference for nearly 13 million of us Saudi women.”
Subaru was the first carmaker targeted by the campaign because it is “progressive” and has marketed its products to women, the group said in a petition on U.S.-based Change.org, a website for social activism. The campaign may be extended to Detroit-based General Motors Co. (GM)’s Cadillac and Seoul-based Hyundai Motor Co. (005380), two brands of car used by Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi woman who was arrested last month for driving, said Change.org’s human-rights editor, Benjamin Joffe-Walt.

Company Comments

Fuji Heavy and its Subaru dealers in Saudi Arabia haven’t “received any information of any campaigns,” Tokyo-based Kenta Matsumoto, spokesman for the company, said by phone. “We only have dealers in Saudi Arabia, and no factories. Our annual sales in the country are limited to only 300 to 400 units,” he said.
Hani al-Faqih, a Subaru manager in Saudi Arabia, said from Riyadh that he had no immediate comment when asked about the campaign.
Hanspeter Ryser, spokesman in Zurich for Cadillac Europe, said he’s not aware of any plans to change Cadillac’s business in Saudi Arabia because of the ban against women driving.
“I cannot imagine there are any steps planned to pull out of Saudi Arabia,” Ryser said. “It’s a very strong market for us. Cadillac vehicles are very popular in this part of the world. In general, we as a company are not getting engaged in political debates, political issues.”
There was no immediate response from Hyundai to an e-mailed request for comment.

Regional Protests

The campaign caps a series of developments that began in May, when Saudi women used the Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. social-networking websites to call for females with international driver’s licenses to use their cars June 17. They said their plan wasn’t a protest. Saudi Arabia, holder of the world’s biggest oil reserves, has avoided the anti-government demonstrations that have rocked the Arab world this year.
“This is already the largest women’s rights movement in Saudi history and no one here knows what will happen next, but a big company like Subaru pulling out could help change our country forever,” the women’s group said.
Al-Sharif, a 32-year-old computer-security consultant who has helped organize the women’s efforts to lift the ban, was arrested in the city of al-Khobar, in Eastern Province, after she drove on more than one occasion and urged other women to drive in a video she posted on YouTube, according to Amnesty International. She was forced to sign a pledge that she wouldn’t drive again and was released 10 days later, Amnesty said.
In addition to Clinton’s support for a lifting of the driving ban, several members of the U.S. Congress, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Representative Tammy Baldwin, have backed the campaign.

Defiance in 1990

The last time a group of women in Saudi Arabia publicly defied the driving ban was Nov. 6, 1990, when U.S. troops massed in the kingdom to prepare for a war that would expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
They were spurred by images of female U.S. soldiers driving in the desert and stories of Kuwaiti women driving their children to safety, and had counted on the presence of the international media to ensure their story would reach the world and ease any repercussions. The women, both the drivers and their passengers, were briefly detained and lost their jobs for at least two years.
Some Saudis including Sheikh Mohammed al-Nujaimi, a cleric, say the driving ban prevents the spread of vice. They say if women were allowed to drive, they would be free to leave home alone whenever they like. The women would also break the strict rules that limit the mixing of genders by interacting with male mechanics if their cars break down or with attendants at gas stations.
Saudi Arabia enforces restrictions interpreted from the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam. Women aren’t allowed to apply for a driver’s license, though some drive when they’re in desert areas away from cities. They can’t travel or get an education without male approval or mix with unrelated men in public places. They aren’t permitted to vote or run as candidates in municipal elections, the only balloting the kingdom allows.
To contact the reporter on this story: Donna Abu Nasr in Manama, Bahrain, through the Dubai newsroom at dabunasr@bloomberg.net.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net.

Hillary Clinton backs Saudi Arabia women's right-to-drive campaign


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has expressed support for the Saudi women who are fighting to gain permission to drive cars. She also carefully stated that this movement is the women’s alone, and that the U.S. has nothing to do with it. In the past the US government has tried hard to stay out of this issue. It was very striking when former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice made a visit to Saudi Arabia and said she would be staying out of the issue, that it was an ‘internal affairs’ matter, or something to that effect. Thankfully, times have changed, and with the Arab Spring now extending to this issue in Saudi Arabia, Clinton has spoken up with her government’s support. It’s about time.


The text of the story from the UK’s Guardian is below and the link to it is: here


Hillary Clinton backs Saudi Arabia women's right-to-drive campaign 
A Saudi Arabian woman drives a car as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on female drivers. Photograph: Ho/AP
Hillary Clinton has lent her support to women in Saudi Arabia protesting against the ban on female drivers, her first public comments on an issue complicating relations between Washington and Riyadh.

A day after the US state department said it was handling the issue through "quiet diplomacy" and not public pronouncements, Clinton praised the protesters, but stressed they were acting on their own behalf, not at the behest of outsiders such as herself.
"What these women are doing is brave and what they are seeking is right, but the effort belongs to them," said Clinton. "I am moved by it and I support them, but I want to underscore the fact that this is not coming from outside of their country. This is the women themselves, seeking to be recognised."
The protests have put the Obama administration, and Clinton in particular, in a difficult position. While she and many other top US officials personally oppose the Saudi ban on female drivers, the administration is increasingly reliant on Saudi authorities to provide stability and continuity in the Middle East and Gulf amid uprisings taking place across the Arab world.
Thus, some officials have been reluctant to antagonise the Saudis.
On Monday, a coalition of Saudi activists urged Clinton to support publicly the campaign to end male-only driving in the ultra-conservative Muslim country.
Clinton said on Tuesday that she and other US officials had raised the matter "at the highest level of the Saudi government".
"We have made clear our views that women everywhere, including women in the kingdom, have the right to make decisions about their lives and their futures," she said. "They have the right to contribute to society and provide for their children and their families, and mobility, such as provided by the freedom to drive, provides access to economic opportunity, including jobs, which does fuel growth and stability.
"And it's also important for just day-to-day life, to say nothing of the necessity from time to time to transport children for various needs and sometimes even emergencies," Clinton said. "We will continue in private and in public to urge all governments to address issues of discrimination and to ensure that women have the equal opportunity to fulfill their own God-given potential."

Monday, June 20, 2011

In Honor of Those Who Drove in 1990

Just came across this on the facebook page We Are Supporting Manal al-Sharif. Wonderful video by Sarah Jaber. It's a tribute to the brave women who dared to drive in 1990. It is very moving and actually lists the names of the women who drove. There are many PhD's among them. The first part is a recollection of the event, the second part is the tribute.

Woman has to pay traffic ticket for driving in Riyadh

Example of the very minor fallout from last Friday's driving events in Saudi Arabia. A woman who drove in Riyadh and got a traffic citation, has to pay a traffic fine of SR100 (around $30).

Story link is here


Woman driver in Riyadh to pay SR100 - Saudi Gazette June 20, 2011

RIYADH: Police have asked Maha Al-Qahtani, the Riyadh woman stopped for driving last Friday, to pay a SR100 traffic ticket and requested her husband to sign a form stating that she will not repeat her actions.

Al-Qahtani’s husband Muhammad told Al-Hayat Arabic daily that he was called to the capital’s Al-Solaimaniya Police Station and asked if his wife had the intention of driving again in the future.

“The head of the Department of Investigation Muhammad Al-Sadran called me to go down to the station to complete the paperwork for the traffic offense committed by my wife for driving without a Saudi license,” he told Al-Hayat.

He said that no criminal offense had been registered according to the documents and that Maha was only in breach of traffic regulations for driving without a Saudi license.

“Al-Sadran asked if Maha had any intention of driving again and I told him that she drives outside the city, but that she would stop driving within the city,” he said.

Muhammad Al-Qahtani added that Al-Sadran told him his wife is obliged to pay SR100 for driving without a Saudi license.

Police stopped Maha Friday while driving along King Fahd Road in central Riyadh.

– Saudi Gazette




Sunday, June 19, 2011

Driving Recap and What's Next?

By all accounts, the June 17th drive-in was a success. Few if any arrests occurred. Many women documented their driving experience. The Saudi people themselves did not harass the women who were out driving. While there was international support that Saudi women could read, hear and see on-line, everyone seemed more interested in cheering Saudi women on from a distance than from demonstrating in their own countries. Yes, as has been repeated over and over again, the social media helped make it happen. And most interestingly, it allowed it to happen in a scattered, self-motivated and very organic way. Which, I believe, is the way the highest Saudi officials would want it. Rural women and women in certain gated communities (like large Aramco oil cities and the King Abdallah University of Science and Technology) do drive, and have been doing it for years. So this foray into public driving in the cities is a natural extension of something already taking place. The international news coverage was pitch-perfect, as far as I can tell, though I don't have a tv where I am now and am relying on the internet for news.

So now we've had a day or two to digest it all. The big question is, will women continue to drive, as was planned? Will they just go about their daily business behind the wheel, until the sight of a woman driver is no longer a big deal, is accepted, and the law follows?

In my opinion, the most important thing was that there were no reports of young Saudi males harassing female drivers, and that is part of a bigger thing, that there was, overall, respect on the road. And each family made its decision about the driving, themselves. To me, that's the true Saudi Arabia, and just maybe, it reflects the core of a moderate civil society. I think it's been there for a long time, just hidden.

So the eyes of the world are on you, Saudi women, and your families. We cheer you on, and wait for your next move. It must feel quite heady, with your hands on the wheel at last.

In the meantime, below are four media accounts from the west about last Friday.

NPR - National Public Radio's story by Ahmad Al-Omran. Excellent interviews with women and men involved. Link is here

PBS Newshour - interview with Saudi women's rights activits Hala al-Dosari and Michele Dunne, editor of the Arab Reform Bulletin.



ABC News - Diane Sawyer reports on the issue:




Last but not least, a link to Aljazeera too:
Saudi women drivers take the wheel on June 17 - Opinion - Al Jazeera English

Saturday, June 18, 2011

In a Scattered Protest, Saudi Women Take the Wheel

The 6/17/2011 New York Times reports that it was a 'scattered protest', implying something less than success. I beg to differ. The fact that many women drove with no harrassment from other members of society in the Kingdom's big cities says it all: Saudi society is ready to accept women drivers. This is what the officials have said they have been waiting for. So, the question is, what's next. There are many stories in the news today covering yesterday's events, and I'm posting the NYT article since it's a great recap. I'll keep posting what I can. Meantime, to keep up on the absolute latest, follow #women2drive on twitter.  Link to the New York Times story here
Full text here:

In a Scattered Protest, Saudi Women Take the Wheel

CAIRO — Several dozen women drove in defiance of the law in major cities of Saudi Arabia on Friday, according to reports on social media and by an informal network of activists in the country. There appeared to be few confrontations reported with either the traffic or morals police, and at least half a dozen women who were stopped were escorted home and admonished not to drive again, said activists reached by telephone.

From its inception in April, the protest against the longstanding ban was far smaller than initially anticipated, but it was not meant to be a mass driving effort. Rather, women with legal driver’s licenses from other countries were urged to run mundane errands — going to the grocery store, perhaps — in order to underscore the fact that it should be normal for women to drive.

Maha al-Qahtani, an information technology specialist for the government, drove around the capital, Riyadh, for 45 minutes with her husband, Mohamed, a human rights activist, in the car. She braced for a siren after passing each of about five police cars, she said, but they ignored her.

“I woke up today believing with every part of me that this is my right, I woke up believing this is my duty, and I was no longer afraid,” said Mrs. Qahtani, adding that she had brought a change of clothes and a prayer rug with her in case she was detained.

Manal al-Sharif, a 32-year-old single mother, started the call for the June 17 protest in April with a Facebook page. But after posting videos of herself driving around Al Khobar in the Eastern Province, she was arrested in late May and jailed for nine days — a punishment that was stricter than expected. Many supporters were disappointed, feeling that she had jumped the gun and jeopardized them all by taking a confrontational approach.

Women driving remains a sensitive issue in Saudi Arabia. For religious conservatives, it is a kind of Alamo, with the ban a sign that the kingdom still holds to its traditions and has not caved to Western pressure.

The ruling family has been especially dependent on this base of supporters in recent months as protests erupted across the region and has been mute as the mufti, the highest religious figure in the kingdom, rolled out a fatwa banning protests.

Many Saudi activists considered the treatment meted out to Ms. Sharif a warning from the monarchy against trying to organize any kind of movement via social media. The initiative for women to drive was the strongest effort so far in the kingdom inspired by the regional climate.

“Women in Saudi Arabia see other women in the Middle East making revolutions, women in Yemen and Egypt at the forefront of revolutions, being so bold, toppling entire governments,” said Waleed Abu Alkhair, whose wife drove around Jidda. “The women of Saudi Arabia looked at themselves and they realized, ‘Wow! We can’t even drive!’ ”

Mr. Abu Alkhair said he knew about many women who drove, and aside from one being questioned by the police for two hours, none were bothered. Once the campaign had been announced there were frequent threats by opponents to punish female drivers either by beating them or by smashing their cars.

“We want women to keep fighting this fight and to be free,” he said. “It will help to liberate the entire society.”

In the weeks after Ms. Sharif’s arrest, a debate erupted between conservative clerics and their followers and the kingdom’s increasingly outspoken women. Opponents largely argued that Saudi society was not ready, that a woman should not be thrown into the wilds of Saudi driving
habits or be held responsible for any accidents.

Worse, opponents argued, it would lead to the public mingling of the sexes. Supporters mocked the clerics for putting everything in a sexual context and asked why it was O.K. for Saudi women to be driven around by an army of some 800,000 male drivers imported from Southeast Asia.

Although the arrest of Ms. Sharif discouraged women from driving, the fact that it enlivened the debate was in contrast to the first (and last) such protest in November 1990. Clerics branded the 47 women amoral and the royal family confiscated their passports, firing those working for the government. Many went into isolation for their own safety.

In addition to religious opposition there is widespread suspicion in the country that those who control the visa process — and in Saudi Arabia that means the princes of the ruling family — have made a business out of controlling the black market in visas for drivers, which can cost more than $3,000 apiece.

Many young married women decry the fact that they cannot afford that, not to mention the driver’s salary, about $600 a month.

The more liberal princes support allowing women to drive.
Prince Talal bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud, 79 years old and long among the most outspoken members of the royal family, argues that such reforms lag because the leading members of the family have failed to yield any power or influence to younger generations.

“Bravo to the women!” the prince said in an interview. “Why should women drive in the countryside and not in the cities?” (Women have long driven in rural areas.)

King Abdullah and other royals have said in interviews with foreign reporters that they expected Saudi women to drive one day soon but have done little lately.

“Saudi Arabian women are going to have to fight for our rights, men are not going to just hand them over to us,” said Amira Kashgary, a professor who drove through Jidda on Friday for 45 minutes with her 21-year-old daughter. Women are tired of being stranded or missing appointments because their drivers disappear for the day, Professor Kashgary said. “We want to drive today, tomorrow, and every day — it’s not a one-day show. We want to make it a norm.”

Friday, June 17, 2011

Saudi Women Driving Cars with Relative Impunity

What a pleasure to type that headline. It's only around 8PM in Saudi Arabia now, so the 'night is still young'. Perhaps more drivers will be out at night when many families take to the road for shopping.

John Hudson of The Atlantic Wire reports the following from the streets of the Kingdom. You can follow the day's events on twitter: #women2drive.   Here is the link to the story.

And the text below. In the story there is a link to NPR reporting as well.

Saudi Women Driving Cars With Relative Impunity

By John Hudson 11:13 AM ET
Today, a number of Saudi women cruised through the streets of Saudi Arabia in automobiles, protesting the country's male-only driving rules. Fortunately, it appears the rogue drivers got away with the protest with relative impunity, according to reports on Twitter and wire services. "Reports of Saudi women driving in different parts of the country keep coming in, " tweets NPR's Ahmed Al Omran. "No arrests so far." The Associate Press concurs. "No arrests or violence were immediately reported." One message on Twitter cited a woman in a blue SUV "forced to stop aggressively by 2 police cars" but that appears to be an outlier. It's not clear how many women participated in the protest. Some peg the number at 13 while others say at least 20.
Regardless, if the lax treatment holds, it would be a real sign of progress in the country. The last time a large protest of this sort was carried out in 1990, "a group of 47 Saudi women were arrested and severely punished after demonstrating in cars," reports ABC News in Australia. The movement seems to have growing support among Saudi royalty, as NBC's Andrea Mitchell tweets, "Saudi Prince Talil among supporters of right of Saudi #women2drive protest today."
This morning, NPR's Andy Carvin tweeted pictures of Saudi women participating in the Women2Drive protest. According to the Associated Press, there is no explicit law banning women from driving, "only fatwas, or religious edicts, by senior clerics following a strict brand of Islam known as Wahhabism.
"They claim the driving ban protects against the spread of vice and temptation because women drivers would be free to leave home alone and interact with male strangers," reports the news wire. "The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers or rely on male relatives to drive." Al Jazeera adds, however, that a locally-issued license is required to drive in the country and they are not issued to women.
Here's more of the footage spilling out on the internet from today's protest:

Saudi women, start your engines: Campaign against driving ban hits the road

Well, this is the day, and so far as I can tell, it's a success. Lots of international press coverage of today, and here is the Washington Post. Link here,  Story below.

‘Saudi women, start your engines:’ Campaign against driving ban hits the road

By Associated Press, Updated: Friday, June 17, 8:27 AM

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Several Saudi women boldly got behind the wheel Friday, including one who managed a 45-minute trip through the nation’s capital, seeking to ignite a road rebellion against the male-only driving rules in the ultraconservative kingdom.

Activists — inspired in part by the uprisings around the Arab world — have not appealed for mass protests in any specific sites. But they urged Saudi women to begin a growing mutiny against the driving restrictions that are supported by clerics backing austere interpretations of Islam and enforced by powerful morality squads.

Encouragement poured in via the Internet. “Take the wheel. Foot on the gas,” said one Twitter message on the main site women2Drive. Another urged: “Saudi women, start your engines!”
The defiance could bring difficult choices for the Western-backed Saudi authorities who have far have escaped major unrest from the Middle East turmoil. Officials could either launch a crackdown on the women and facing international pressure or giving way to the demands and angering traditional-minded clerics and other groups opposing reforms.

It also could encourage wider reform bids by Saudi women, who have not been allowed to vote and must obtain permission from a male guardian to travel or take a job.

In the early hours of the protest, security forces mostly held back from challenging the women drivers, activists said. Some reported that women drove directly in front of police patrols.

“We want women from today to begin exercising their rights,” said Wajeha al-Huwaidar, a Saudi women’s rights activist who posted Internet clips of herself driving in 2008. “Today on the roads is just the opening in a long campaign. We will not go back.”

The plan, she said, is for women who have obtained driving licenses abroad to begin doing their daily errands and commuting on their own.

“We’ll keep it up until we get a royal decree removing the ban,” she told The Associated Press.
The campaign’s official start follows the 10-day detention last month of a 32-year-old woman, Manal al-Sherif, after she posted video of herself driving. She was released after reportedly signing a pledge that she would not drive again or speak publicly.

Her case, however, sparked an outcry from international rights groups and brought direct appeals to Saudi’s rulers to lift the driving ban on women — the only such countrywide rule in the world.

A protest supporter, Benjamin Joffe-Walt, said there were confirmed reports of at least several woman in the driver’s seat in the capital, Riyadh.

One of them was Maha al-Qahtani, a computer specialist at Saudi’s Ministry of Education, who said she drove for 45 minutes around the city with her husband in the passenger seat. “I wanted to make a point,” she said in a telephone interview. “I took it directly to the streets of the capital.”
Web message boards set up on Twitter and other social media carried unconfirmed reports that some women also got behind the wheel in the eastern city of Dammam and elsewhere. Joffe-Walt said some Saudi men claimed they drove around dressed in the traditional black coverings for women in an attempt to confuse security forces.

A YouTube page urged supporters around the world to honk their car horns for the Saudi women.
But conservative forces also counterattacked on the web. One video — denouncing the “revolution of corruption” — featured patriotic songs and a sinister-looking black hand with red fingernails reaching for the Saudi flag. One Facebook, a hard-line group had the message for Saudi women seeking the right to drive: “Dream on.”

No arrests or violence were immediately reported.

Saudi Arabia has no written law barring women from driving — only fatwas, or religious edicts, by senior clerics following a strict brand of Islam known as Wahhabism.

They claim the driving ban protects against the spread of vice and temptation because women drivers would be free to leave home alone and interact with male strangers. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers or rely on male relatives to drive.

Saudi King Abdullah has promised some social reforms, but he depends on the clerics to support his ruling family and is unlikely to take steps that would bring backlash from the religious establishment.

In London, the rights groups Amnesty International called Thursday on Saudi officials to “stop treating women as second-class citizens and open the kingdom’s roads to women drivers.”
“Not allowing women behind the wheel in Saudi Arabia is an immense barrier to their freedom of movement, and severely limits their ability to carry out everyday activities as they see fit, such as going to work or the supermarket, or picking up their children from school,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Earlier this week, a group of women drove around the Saudi Embassy in Washington to protest the kingdom’s ban on female drivers. Similar convoys converged on Saudi diplomatic missions in other cities around the world.

In November 1990, when U.S. troops were deployed to Saudi Arabia before the invasion to oust Iraqi troops from Kuwait, about 50 women got behind the wheel and drove family cars in one of the first acts of defiance against the ban. They were jailed for one day, their were passports confiscated and they lost their jobs.
___
Associated Press writer Sarah El-Deeb in Cairo contributed to this report.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Guidelines for drivers on June 17th from Saudi Blogger Sabria Jawhar

Saudi blogger and journalist Sabria Jawhar has posted the following guidelines for June 17th.

Here is the link to her blog: Sabria's Out of the Box  - Saudi June Driving Guidelines

You can also follow women2drive on facebook and twitter.

Here is the text, from Sabria's blog:

Saudi Women June 17 Driving Guidelines- Sabria Jawhar

Saudi women planning to drive on June 17 should observe the following guidelines for their safety:

1) Islamic dress code

2) There won’t be any gatherings. Go out only to run important errands, visit the hospital, drop kids off at school, etc.

3) It is encouraged that you videotape the event and upload it on Youtube.

4) Drive within city limits only.

5) To reaffirm our patriotism, fly the Saudi flag and lift up a photo of Abu Mit’ib (the King).

6) No need to be scared. If the police arrest you, you’ll only be required to sign on a pledge.

7) It is preferred that whoever plans on driving to have an international driver’s license.

8) It is better if a male accompanies you to protect you and to guarantee your safety (since the ball would just be starting to roll).

9) Avoid driving into any empty plots or deserted or faraway areas because that might pose some danger to you.

10) Driving is not scheduled for one day only. Saudi women are starting Friday but will continue to take to their cars beyond that date until a royal decree is issued.

11) Any woman who fails to comply is responsible for any possible consequences.

12) Ensure notifying family and friends of your intentions to drive (in case you go missing they’ll have an idea how to act).

13) If you have a phone with internet connection, follow WOMEN2DRIVE on Facebook and Twitter.


Radio report on dc driving demo

Below is a link to a short radio report from WAMU, the radio station of the American University in Washington DC. Great photo of a demonstrator, Moshtaiyeen Ahmad, by Patrick Madden.  Radio story here

In other news, a radical feminist group called FEMEN demonstrated their support in a (ahem) different way at the Saudi embassy in Ukraine. They were all 'fully open to the sunshine', shall we say. I'll not link to that one.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Camel's Nose Under the Wheel? - Maureen Dowd in the NYT

Great column by Maureen Dowd in the 6/14/2011 NYT. I have found her more than irritating over the years due to her snarky coverage of Saudi Arabia. However, on her trip to the Kingdom last year, she quickly came up the awareness and learning curve. Her increased awareness is paying off, and this column is a case in point.  Well done, Ms. Dowd. The text is below, or link to the story: here.

Camel’s Nose Under the Wheel?

WASHINGTON
I guess you don’t get to be the richest man in Saudi Arabia without being able to sum up a situation quickly.

When I called him in Riyadh on Tuesday night, the Arabian Warren Buffett, as the billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is known, was quite definite in his views on allowing Saudi women to drive.

“We’re not calling for diplomatic relations with Israel,” he said. “We’re just asking for ladies to drive the car. Please, give me a break. Even in North Korea, women can drive. It’s a joke. The issue of women driving can happen tomorrow morning because it’s not really an issue at all. Frankly speaking, we need strong political leadership to do it and get it behind us. What are we waiting for?”

Of course, Prince Alwaleed is a pillar of modernity in the medieval kingdom. In his skyscraper office in Riyadh, women in tight jeans and suits rule the roost, working side by side with men, something that is forbidden elsewhere. Government offices in Saudi Arabia are segregated by gender.

The prince made a point of hiring a woman, born in the holy city of Mecca, and training her to be the pilot of his private jet.

“Ladies can fly above but not drive on the street,” he said dryly, noting: “My wife drives in the desert and in every city we go to immediately from the airport. She’s an excellent driver — better than me, for sure.”

In the ’50s, at the height of the American mania for jokes and TV skits about ditzy women behind the wheel, there was a saying: “Women drivers, no survivors.”

That takes on an ominous new meaning as Saudi women agonize over whether to join in a drive-in Friday — a national protest where women will take the wheel to see if they get thrown in the clink en masse. In 1990, 47 women from the Saudi intelligentsia were so inspired by American troops — and female soldiers — gathering in the kingdom for the first President Bush’s war against Saddam that they went for a joy ride to protest Saudi Arabia being the only country where women can’t drive.

The fundamentalist clerics went into overdrive, branding the women “whores” and “harlots.” They lost their jobs and were harassed. Their passports were revoked and they had to sign papers agreeing not to talk about the drive. When I interviewed some of them 12 years later, they were only beginning to shake off the vengeful backlash.

For all the highfalutin talk of George and Laura Bush about how W.’s wars would help expand the rights of women in the Middle East, there’s only so much pressure America can put on Saudi Arabia about letting women drive without jeopardizing the flow of oil that lets people drive here. President Obama did not even mention Saudi Arabia in his big speech about the Middle East last month.

Driving may not be as important an issue as the end of male guardianship, but it is the high-octane nexus where our hypocrisies interlock.

The latest drive to drive started last month, a Twitter and Facebook feminist blossoming in the Arab Spring, following a Saudi “Day of Rage” in March where nobody showed up except the police.

King Abdullah passes for progressive in Saudi Arabia. (He just issued a decree allowing women, instead of men, to sell women lingerie.) Frightened by the uprisings all around him, he snuffed out wisps of democratic protests the Saudi way: with his checkbook. After the “Day of Rage” fizzled, he rewarded his complacent citizens with $130 billion in salary increases, new housing and financing for religious organizations.

But then a 32-year-old single mother named Manal al-Sharif, an Internet consultant for the state-run oil company Aramco, posted a video of herself on YouTube, driving in a black abaya in the Eastern Province city of Al-Khobar.

She told CNN that the last straw was one night when she was trying to get home to her 5-year-old son and she couldn’t catch a cab or find her brother to pick her up or get away from male drivers harassing her as she walked alone.

“I’m a grown-up woman,” she said, adding: “And I was crying like a kid in the street because I couldn’t find someone to pick me up to take me back home.”

She was put in jail for a week and forced to sign a document agreeing not to talk to the press or continue her calls for reform. This had a chilling effect on women.

But, this week, Reem al-Faisal, a princess, activist and Jidda photographer who is the granddaughter of the late King Faisal and the niece of the Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, spoke out, writing in The Arab News that “it is truly tragic that we have to fight for such an essential yet mediocre right” and be treated as “eternal minors.”

She suggested that women simply drive pollution-free camels. Except then men would “deny women camel-driving rights, too. Then we will have to content ourselves with taking the backseat of the camels or start looking for other options — mules maybe?”

Female drivers to circle Saudi Embassy in DC to protest kingdom's ban on women behind wheel

By Associated Press, Updated: Wednesday, June 15, 5:42 AM

WASHINGTON — An unusual protest is scheduled for Washington as women plan to drive around the Saudi Embassy to protest the kingdom’s ban on female drivers.

The Institute for Gulf Affairs, which is sponsoring Wednesday’s rally, accuses Saudi Arabia of a system of gender apartheid that oppresses women — most noticeably by refusing to allow women behind the wheel.

The protest will run from noon to 4 p.m. outside the embassy in Foggy Bottom. It is designed to coincide with a protest planned for Friday inside the kingdom itself.

Link to story in the Washington Post here

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

CBC seeking women planning to drive who are willing to talk about it

Dear Readers,

Passing on a message from Liz Hoath, a producer from CBC. If you are planning to drive on the 17th and are willing to discuss it, please contact Liz - her information is below her message, which is as follows:

I'm with a national radio program at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.   We're hoping to do a segment on Friday about the protest over women driving in Saudi Arabia.  We would love to speak with a woman who is planning on taking part and I was wondering if you had any ideas for me on who I could contact or how to reach them.  Thanks in advance, it's been tough to get through to people who are involved.
Liz Hoath
Producer - The Current
CBC Radio One
cbc.ca/thecurrent
+001 604-662-6416 - w
elizabeth.hoath@cbc.ca 

Unlike cars, camels don't pollute

Saudi photographer Reem al-Faisal contributed a whimsical opinion piece to the June 13, 2011 Arab News. Here is the link to it, and the text pasted in below. This piece is spiced with the Saudi sense of humor, which, I think, is similar to the American sense of humor.

Unlike cars, camels don't pollute

By REEM AL FAISAL | ARAB NEWS
You can't wish it out of existence. It will keep on intruding into other, more important, matters as long as there are motor vehicles and women. In any country, the percentage of women driving a car may be very low but when you deny this right to women, it dominates the whole debate about women's rights in that country, sometimes overshadowing the many rights they enjoy.
That is exactly the situation in Saudi Arabia where women are being denied the simplest of utilities - a mode of transportation - and where women are ready to give all they own to acquire the most basic of human rights - the right to drive a car. Women were traveling the deserts for thousands of years but we can't be trusted with a piece of metal.
OK, we give up and allow the men to drive cars and allow us what was never denied our grandmothers - camels. Let every household own as many camels as they wish or can afford. Open up schools to teach women how to ride and house and maintain a camel.
In fact, it could be a great idea for the protection and care of the environment. Unlike cars, camels don't pollute. Their waste is biodegradable and can even be used to improve the environment as fertilizers for plants and even for heating fuel in the cold winter nights. Unlike cars, camels produce an important nutrition - milk. Where in the world can you find a car that can transport you as well as feed you when needed?
If camels become a mode of transportation on a mass scale their market price will surely decrease since at least half of the Saudi population will be riding them. This might make them cheaper than cars and affordable to the average Saudi household. Also I am sure that the maintenance and upkeep of a camel is far cheaper than a car and it doesn't need to be imported from outside like cars so we also encourage local markets.
In fact, it might be a good idea to have men too riding camels. This way we will reduce the level of pollution to near zero and leave more oil to be exported to all those badly polluted countries where men and women drive cars.
But then we will have a problem. When men discover the benefits of "driving" camels, they will deny women camel-driving rights too. Then we will have to content ourselves with taking the backseat of the camels or start looking for other options - mules maybe?
Leaving sarcasm aside, it is truly tragic that we have to fight for such an essential yet mediocre right ignoring all the many injustices we suffer like our being denied the right to choose and practice any profession we desire. Or the right to be represented sufficiently in government (like ministers) and other activities of society. The right to practice law and be part of the judiciary system. The right to invest and trade freely without depending on a man. The freedom to travel whenever we want and wherever we want. Basically, we want to be treated as adults in the eyes of the law and not to live as eternal minors waiting for the kind attention of our male guardians.
In the end we want the rights that Allah and his Prophet (peace be upon him) gave us a millennia and a half ago and which men have tried to deny us whichever way they can.
-  Reem Al Faisal is a Saudi photographer. She is based in Jeddah.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Saudi Arabia's Freedom Riders - New York Times


This impassioned op-ed piece about Saudi women driving appeared in the June 13, 2011 New York Times. The author, Farzani Milani is a professor at the University of Virginia.

Link to the story here  and in case the links aren't working, below is the text of the story. The illustration is by Juliette Borda.

Saudi Arabia’s Freedom Riders

Charlottesville, Va.
THE Arab Spring is inching its way into Saudi Arabia — in the cars of fully veiled drivers.
On the surface, when a group of Saudi women used Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to organize a mass mobile protest defying the kingdom’s ban on women driving, it may have seemed less dramatic than demonstrators facing bullets and batons while demanding regime change in nearby countries. But underneath, the same core principles — self-determination and freedom of movement — have motivated both groups. The Saudi regime understands the gravity of the situation, and it is moving decisively to contain it by stopping the protest scheduled for June 17.
The driving ban stems from universal anxiety over women’s unrestrained mobility. In Saudi Arabia that anxiety is acute: the streets — and the right to enter and leave them at will — belong to men. A woman who trespasses is either regarded as a sinful “street-walker” or expected to cover herself in her abaya, a portable house. Should she need to get around town, she can do so in a taxi, with a chauffeur (there are 750,000 of them) or with a man related to her by marriage or blood behind the wheel.
Although the Islamic Republic of Iran could not implement similarly draconian driving laws after the 1979 revolution, given that women had driven cars there for decades, the theocratic regime did denounce women riding bikes or motorcycles as un-Islamic and sexually provocative. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, proclaimed in 1999 that “women must avoid anything that attracts strangers, so riding bicycles or motorcycles by women in public places involves corruption and is forbidden.”
The Saudi regime, like the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the military junta in Sudan and the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, ordains the exclusion of women from the public sphere. It expects women to remain in their “proper place.”
Indeed, the rulers in Saudi Arabia are the most gender-segregated in the world today. In official ceremonies, and in countless photographs, posters and billboards, the royal family seems to be composed solely of men.
This desire to deny women entrance into the public arena is inaccurately presented as a religious mandate. Yet there is no basis for such exclusion in the Koran. On the contrary, in the early years of Islam, women were a vital presence in Muslim communities. They attended mosques, engaged in public debates and got involved in decision-making processes. Aisha, one of the wives of the Prophet Muhammad, commanded an army of men while riding on a camel. If Muslim women could ride camels 14 centuries ago, why shouldn’t they drive cars today? Which Koranic injunction prohibits them from driving?
Gender apartheid is not about piety. It is about dominating, excluding and subordinating women. It is about barring them from political activities, preventing their active participation in the public sector, and making it difficult for them to fully exercise the rights Islam grants them to own and manage their own property. It is about denying women the basic human right to move about freely.
That is why the women defying the ban on motorized mobility are in fact demanding an eventual overhaul of the entire Saudi political system. They want not just to drive but to remap the political geography of their country.
These women know the value of a car key. Like the man who faced down tanks in Tiananmen Square, like the unprecedented number of women participating in protests across the Middle East and North Africa, the Saudi women’s campaign for the right to drive is a harbinger of a new era in the region.
It may require decades to see an end to the Middle East’s gender apartheid and the political reconfigurations that would necessarily follow. One thing is certain though: the presence of women and men demonstrating side by side in the streets of Iran, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen and Syria is a sign of more seismic upheavals ahead. Old categories have broken down and the traditional distribution of power and space is no longer viable. 
The women demonstrating for the right to drive in Riyadh are seasoned negotiators of confined spaces and veteran trespassers of closed doors and iron gates. They are a moderating, modernizing force to be reckoned with — and an antidote to extremism. 
Their refusal to remain silent and invisible or to relinquish their rights as citizens is an act of civil disobedience and moral courage. Their protest, and those of their sisters across the Middle East, represent a revolution within revolutions — and a turning point in the contemporary history of Islam.
Farzaneh Milani, chairwoman of the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Virginia, is the author of “Words, Not Swords: Iranian Women Writers and the Freedom of Movement.”

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Transparency must be the order of the day

Great op-ed by Tariq al-Maeena in the Arab News, about how the Shura Council should be more forthcoming about its debate of the women driving issue. Link to the article here.

Here is the text:

By TARIQ AL-MAEENA | ARAB NEWS

Transparency must be the order of the day

GOVERNMENT or civic officials today must realize that with the advent of the Internet and social media outlets, information, past or present, is readily accessible and transparency in public affairs becomes essential to preserve the credibility of their organizations.
So when Chairman of the Saudi Shoura Council Abdullah Al-Asheikh stated recently that the council was ready to discuss the issue of women driving if it was asked to, he surprised a lot of people.  His claim that “the issue has not so far been tabled with the council for discussion,” was met with incredulity in some quarters.
The right of a woman to drive has become the subject of wide public debate following the arrest and detention, for ten days, of Saudi woman Manal Al-Sharif for driving a car openly in the Eastern Province of the country.
Al-Asheikh, elaborating on the process of tabling issues before the council, stated that a proposal must either come from the government, or at least one member of the council or when the council itself expressed a desire to deliberate a certain issue.
Noted Saudi thinker and activist Abdullah Al-Alami, who is widely acknowledged for his contributions to social causes countered Al-Asheikh’s statements by saying that the council was formally asked to discuss the issue in a letter sent by express mail to the council back in February of this year. The request was endorsed by a former ambassador, a former undersecretary to the UN secretary-general, and included a sizable number of academics, literary figures, media professionals, businessmen and women, housewives, students and government employees.
According to Al-Alami, the Shoura Council had set up a committee meeting with a delegation from the petitioners for March 15 of this year, but the meeting was canceled hours prior to the event without any explanation.
“While we appreciate the council’s efforts to consider the issues of concern to society, we urge it to review the project that we have submitted to it which contains the advantages of allowing women to drive cars and the negative effects resulting from the presence of a large number of foreign drivers socially and economically as well as from a security point of view,” he said.
Understandably, Al-Alami can be forgiven if he is astonished by the Shoura Council chairman’s statements. But then let’s try to understand why the Shoura Council would need outside involvement in this issue, when one of their own for many years was trying to table the issue of women driving and was continuously overruled.
Back in 2006, Shoura Council member Mohammed Al-Zulfa had repeatedly led calls in the council for the issue to be tabled and to take action. Al-Zulfa and Dr. Abdullah Bukhari, both noted members of the Shoura Council, were pushing for a debate on this matter. Al-Zulfa later said that he was surrounded and intimidated by angry members at one of the debates because of his opinions. In a statement to the press at the time, Al-Zulfa stated, “I told them the Qur’an and the Sunnah do not prevent it, and not allowing women to drive creates more social problems than preventing them. The paroxysms of anger these people go into don’t help the matter. They are a minority who are very loud, and they are tense now because of the open atmosphere for debate.”
Were these debates not recorded in Shoura archives?  If indeed the Shoura Council chairman claims that this issue has not reached the council before, then are Al-Alami and Al-Zulfa and others like them blowing smoke? Men whose credibility is beyond question?
In the same year, the then Saudi Minister of Information Iyad Madani, encouraged women to lobby traffic departments, saying there was no formal legal ban. Speaking before an economic forum, he told the women audience to go ahead and apply for their driving licenses. Such a call from a reformer and one with a seat on the Council of Ministers was seen as an encouraging signal for the Shoura Council to table the motion and work on it. His statements made front-page headlines in all the Kingdom’s newspapers. Did the Shoura Council not get the signal then?
At that time, some scholars claimed that driving was a “physical activity that conflicted with women’s divinely ordained role as homemakers.” It has gradually dawned on many minds in the following years that religion had nothing to do with the ban. Muhammad Abdullatif Al-Sheikh, a Saudi scholar, said that the ball was now in the court of the political leadership since the issue was political rather than religious.  “Islamic teachings, which did not prevent women from mounting camels and horses, would not forbid them from driving cars,” he wrote.
It is unfortunate for half the Saudi population that years pass on, and yet we remain mired in something as basic as allowing women to drive. What is more distressing is when transparency by officials takes a back seat to statements meant to please or pacify some segment of the population. No more flip-flops please.
(talmaeena@yahoo.com)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Six women detained in Riyadh for driving

The Arab News carried a Reuters story that six women aged 21-30 were picked up by Riyadh police for driving on Thursday, June 9, 2011.

Here is the text of the story - the link to it is: here

Six women detained in Riyadh for driving

By JASON BENHAM | REUTERS
RIYADH: Authorities detained six women on Thursday for driving cars in the capital in defiance of laws allowing only male motorists on the kingdom’s roads.

Rasha Al-Duwaisi, one of those detained on Thursday, put the ages of the group at between 21 and 30 and said they had met in a district of Riyadh late in the afternoon to teach each other how to drive using three cars.

They were quickly taken to a police station and instructed to summon their male guardians (mahram) to collect them from custody.

“It’s not the first time we have done this,” Duwaisi told Reuters by telephone from the station.
“It’s my right to drive and my right to know how to drive. I suffer because I can’t drive because I have to rely on a driver that I share with four others.”

Many families in Saudi Arabia have at least one driver with an average salary of around 2,000 Saudi riyals ($533) per month. Those who cannot afford this assign a male member of family to drive its women, which often amounts to a time-consuming burden.

Traffic police could not immediately be reached for comment on Thursday’s arrests.
Two of the other detainees were Duwaisi’s sisters, she said, adding that she met the other three on Facebook and Twitter.

Authorities last month arrested Manal Al-Sharif, who posted a YouTube video of herself driving in the Eastern Province and calling on other women to do the same.

Al-Sharif has been released but faces charges of “besmirching the kingdom’s reputation abroad and stirring up public opinion.”

Another woman, Shaima Osama, was also arrested for driving last month in Jeddah. She too was later released.

Thousands of Saudi men and women joined Facebook groups calling for Saudi driving rights to be extended to women.

Women in the country are also required to have written approval from a designated guardian — a father, husband, brother or son — to emigrate, work or travel abroad.

The campaign that Al-Sharif launched is aimed at teaching women to drive and encouraging them to take to the roads from June 17, using foreign-issued licenses.

Women driving: Differentiate between luxury and necessity

Opinion column in the 6/10/2011 Arab News - Ali al-Khishaiban writes that society must differentiate between those women who need to drive and those who just want to do it for luxury. Some interesting arguments here, worrying that if a family has six daughters then each one will have to have a car. And then, women will start competing with each other in the kinds of cars they have.

Though it is easy to chuckle at these arguments sometimes, I think it's a healthy thing that this writer is actually envisioning what it will be like when women start to drive in the Kingdom. And I agree with the author, the car dealers will be ecstatic to have a whole new customer base.

Here is the column and you can link to it: here


Women driving: Differentiate between luxury and need
By ALI AL-KHISHAIBAN | AL-RIYADH
The acceptance or rejection of new ideas in Saudi society is subject to different criteria.

These ideas have to go through cultural and social filters before they are accepted or rejected. An example would be riding bicycles, an idea rejected more than 50 years ago by people before they finally accepted it.

A recent case is the issue of allowing women to drive. If we are looking for a solution to this issue, then we cannot ignore these social factors. In Saudi society no one rejects or supports the issue just for the sake of it. Everyone has his or her own reasons.

The real problem in allowing a woman to drive lies in understanding the balance between woman's need to drive and society’s willingness to accommodate this need.

Societies are not compelled to meet the needs of all individuals if they negatively affect others. This does not apply only to the issue of women driving, but all other ideological and cultural issues.

The issue of women driving is based on individual needs. In allowing women to drive, society is dealing with a complex issue.

For instance, a family man with five or six daughters would need several cars. It would create a problem between siblings when it comes to equality.

The family would be burdened with huge financial obligations. This is, however, music to the ears of car dealers because they will be making good money out of it.

Therefore, women driving may not be a problem as large as actually providing the cars. We will start seeing daughters wanting to buy better cars than their cousins, sisters or friends.
In my opinion there are no obstacles to Saudi society accepting women driving. But they would have to deal seriously with the financial consequences.

An officer in the traffic department or municipal official would not wish to see the number of cars tripling in our streets, especially in big cities.

Yes, there are some women who need to drive a car. We should support them. However, I think we should differentiate between luxury and need.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Youtube - Honk for Saudi Women

There's an initiative on YouTube to post videos in support of Saudi women driving, called "Honk for Saudi Women".

So far, the following is my favorite one.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Honk if you support Saudi women drivers

Today's Christian Science Monitor has an editorial blog piece calling for a massive on-the-ground response on June 17th....they are calling for not only women, but supporting men and family members to take to the wheel on June 17th, in the spirit of Tahrir Square.

Here is the article, pasted in, in case some readers cannot get to the actual article. The link is: here
Honk if you support Saudi women drivers
Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, but in the spirit of the Arab Spring, a protest is planned for June 17. Supporters want Hillary Clinton to speak out publicly on it. More useful would be a massive turnout, including men.
    A Saudi woman gets out of a car after being given a ride by her driver in Riyadh on May 26. A campaign was launched on Facebook calling for men to beat Saudi women who drive their cars in a planned protest June 17 against the ultra-conservative kingdom's ban on women taking the wheel. (Credit: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom)

By Francine Kiefer
posted June 6, 2011 at 3:00 am EDT
What struck me about watching a YouTube video of Manal al-Sharif driving along in a Saudi city scene is how normal it looked: The modern Arab woman, wearing her hijab and black sunglasses, looking left before she makes a turn, checking her rear-view mirror, but mostly staring straight ahead as she chats with the woman in the passenger seat who is filming her.
But this simple act is utterly un-normal in Saudi Arabia, where women are banned from driving – not because any law forbids it, but because custom and religious clerics say it's a no-no. With no public transport system, this makes getting to work, or getting the kids to school, or running errands more than a chore.
Ms. al-Sharif, who is a divorced mother and a computer-security consultant, was arrested May 22 after posting a video of herself driving. She was finally released 10 days later, but only after promising not to participate in the "Women2Drive" campaign. The campaign urges women to drive en masse in Saudi Arabia on June 17 to protest the entrenched driving ban.
The campaign is promoting itself through Facebook and Twitter, just as the organizers of the Arab Spring did. But will it galvanize support inside the conservative kingdom, which is the most restrictive Islamic government for women in the world? Women there cannot vote, have no property rights, and make up only 5 percent of the work force?
From behind her steering wheel, al-Sharif makes her case for the right to drive. Not all women can afford a hired driver, she says. And what about the morals of the drivers themselves? Hers got in an accident in the first week she hired him. "He used to harass me," she explained. "He'd adjust [the] rear-view mirror to see what I was wearing." This week, a Saudi businesswoman reported being raped at gunpoint by her chauffeur.
In the video, al-Shariff and her passenger talk about other disadvantages to a driveless life: No taxis available at rush hour; drivers shared by so many women that a 10-minute trip to the office takes two hours; having to stand on the street to wave down a driver. "When I stand by the roadside, everybody, good and bad, will look at me. The good and the bad humiliate me because they don’t like the amount of money that I offer," says al-Sharif. But driving herself, she adds, "There is nobody getting in my way and nobody harassing me, because I am in my own car with the doors locked."
Women's rights advocates in Saudi Arabia have written an open letter to US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton asking her to publicly support a woman's right to drive, a campaign they describe as the most significant women's rights movement in Saudi Arabia in two decades. "Wikileaks" reveals that US diplomats have made this appeal in private, but to no avail. The group is making a similar appeal to the European Union's top foreign affairs official, Catherine Ashton.
That would be a welcome, supportive step, but perhaps not the "game changing moment" that the letter's authors hope. The June 17 protest is sure to attract stiff opposition inside the kingdom. A counter campaign calls on men to use the cords of their headdresses to whip the women protesters. Not only is there stiff religious opposition to the protest, but many men fear that if women drive, they will take away men's jobs.
What's needed on June 17 is the same as everywhere in the Arab uprising: A massive and ongoing protest. That is what gets the attention of rulers. And in this endeavor, women must bring their male friends and family members who support them.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Saudi Actress apologizes for driving; Saudi school kids put Governor on the spot on driving

Another day with more than one story related to Saudi women driving.

In the first, the Arab News reports that Wajnat al-Rahbini, a Saudi actress, was arrested for driving herself to the passport office. She is recently widowed, and her driver was on vacation. She had to take care of some passport and labor department business urgently and had no alternative. I suppose she could have called a taxi or a limo, but she chose not to. And she also said she's driven in the past with no consequences.
Here is the link to the story. Actress apologizes

Then, the Governor of the western Mecca Province, Prince Khalid bin Faisal, was visiting a school in western Saudi Arabia. A school girl asked him when women will be allowed to fly planes and drive cars; and then a boy asked whether he supported Saudi women driving. He was diplomatic...and handled it well. Fortunately, he has a good sense of humor. His father was the beloved King Faisal, and he was educated at Oxford.
Here is the link to the story from Emirates 24/7. Prince Khalid

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Saudi Womens Rights Activists Press Hillary Clinton to Endorse Their Right to Drive

Several women’s rights organizations in the U.S. have penned an open letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking her to endorse Saudi women’s right to drive. The story is pasted in below, as reported in the Huffington Post. You can sign the petition here

SAUDI WOMEN'S RIGHTS ACTIVISTS PRESS HILLARY CLINTON TO ENDORSE THEIR RIGHT TO DRIVE - HUFFINGTON POST

A consortium of Saudi Arabian women's rights activists have written an open letter to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to publicly press the Saudi government to allow women to drive.
Penned by the organization Saudi Women for Driving, the letter has been endorsed by over 10,000 people from all 50 US states on Change.org. An almost identical letter has been addressed to Catherine Ashton, Secretary Clinton's counterpart in the E.U.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bars women from getting behind the wheel of a vehicle -– bicycles included. The movement gained traction after 32-year-old computer-security consultant Manal al-Sherif, now dubbed the "Saudi Rosa Parks," was detained after she posted a video of herself driving in the conservative kingdom, urging others women to take her lead.
Al-Sherif has since been released, on the condition that she will not participate in a Saudi protest of the driving restrictions set for June 17. The campaign, which has a 26,000 member Facebook group, does not have country-wide support. YouTube videos have circulated of a young boy making fun of the movement, and a counter-Facebook page with 6,000 fans has been created inciting men to beat women found driving. (It has since been removed for encouraging violent behavior.)
The activists write:

As Saudi women our lack of freedom of movement places an extreme burden on our lives. We lack a public transportation system and the most basic errands and medical appointments are missed due to the difficulty and expenses of arranging transportation, notwithstanding educational and work opportunities. Many from our religious establishment openly state that the reason they prohibit women from driving is to keep women at home and in need of men. Our lack of this basic right to drive our own cars has been repeatedly exploited by abusive fathers, brothers, husbands and even hired drivers. Just this week a Saudi woman reported she was raped by her driver… Secretary Clinton, you are a friend. Indeed, some of us have met you personally during your decades-long journey as a champion of women’s rights all over the world. Now, as we build the largest Saudi women's protest movement in decades, we need your help.
According to Change.org, Saudi Women for Driving promoted a similar campaign on the website calling upon al-Sherif's release from prison. Over 60,000 people in 156 countries signed the letter, making it the world's fastest growing advocacy campaign.