Monday, May 28, 2012

Firestorm of controversy over Manal al-Sharif's Oslo Speech

Manal al-Sharif's speech in Oslo earlier this month when she accepted the Vaclav Havel Prize (see our post about it here) has caused a firestorm inside Saudi Arabia. A blog written by a Saudi woman, "Saudi Woman's Weblog" writes about the controversy. Her blog has garnered lots of fascinating comments that reflect the issues. Link to it here

Manal's speech in Oslo was incredibly heart-felt, her own story of how she ultimately became an activist for women's rights and the right to drive. She has touched many nerves back home, since she did not tow any official line about how things are supposed to be portrayed. She told her own story, as she saw it. 

If you didn't hear her speech, you can watch it here - then visit the blog to get some reactions.


Friday, May 25, 2012

Learning to Drive Again

Judith Greenberg, Ph.D., New York careerist, over-achieving mom and writer, let her driver's license lapse. Now she's getting it back. This is an interesting essay from the Huffington Post about what it means to drive and not drive. A link to the text here,  and it's pasted in below.

- Judith Greenberg, Ph.D.
Why are so many women I know -- myself included -- prone to waves of sadness these days? The sun is shining, flowers blooming and days are getting longer. Yet the springtime blues seem to be affecting people whose lives, at least from the outside, look pretty great. It turns out that there are more suicides in the glorious spring months of April and May than cold and dark December and January.

I have a theory, but I'm going to take a detour to discuss my recent forays to the DMV to get there.

I allowed my driver's license to expire. I leave it to the reader to imagine the possibilities for my foolishness. This lapse would be unlikely outside of New York City, where I live and where you can get around by walking, public transportation and taxis.

For years it didn't seem like such a big deal. Frankly, not driving had some nice benefits. Without a license, people needed to drive me around. During summer holidays on Martha's Vineyard, my 70-year old father would awaken to drive me from our secluded rental to a yoga class in Vineyard Haven. He would purchase a coffee, read his New York Times and wait to drive me back home. It was lovely; I hadn't been chauffeured around like that since childhood. There were other perks. On car rides with my husband and kids (in a rental), I could fall asleep in the passenger seat since, after all, I wasn't going to be much help at the wheel. I settled comfortably into a newfound passive role. I even bragged about my tiny environmental footprint.

It dawned on me that not driving might be connected to other factors in my life.

In the years that I had stopped driving, I was raising two children, teaching, writing, organizing a home renovation, volunteering at my kids' public schools and walking our puppy. Despite being a feminist, the expectations of a 1950s housewife have inscribed themselves upon my psyche. If my brownies aren't homemade I am cheating; if the school requests help to wrap raffle baskets, I show up; if the sink fills up with dishes, I feel my inner OCD-monster emerge.

Although these particular demands may be idiosyncratic I don't think I am alone in feeling overwhelmed with expectations; I know over-extended "stay at home" and working moms. The progress enabled by the women's movement helped us to pursue our educations and professional goals. We should be a world away from Mad Men's Betty Draper, but find ourselves packing lunches, clearing breakfast dishes and reminding kids to put their laundry in the hamper with interminable repetition. The old television advertisement for bath soap with the motto "Calgon, take me away" sounds pretty enticing. And so, the car was my area where I reverted to childlike passivity.

Sitting in the passenger's seat was almost as relaxing as a Calgon bath. Except that I didn't see the blind spot of not having a license (of course I didn't see it, you say, it's a blind spot). One morning during a terrible snowstorm in Colorado, it dawned on me. What about an emergency? It was crazy and dangerous not to be able to drive. In Saudi Arabia, women are banned from driving, potentially facing corporal punishment if they do so. Women drivers, Saudi authorities claim, would lead to the end of virginity, and a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce. Yet here I was in America relinquishing my right; it's like not voting.

In Paula Vogel's play, How I Learned to Drive, the pedophilic Uncle Peck tells his niece, "When you are driving your life is in your own two hands. Understand?" Granted, I am finding nuggets of truth in the words of a fictional pedophile, but how I have I let go of life being within my two hands? Peck continues, "There's something about driving -- when you're in control of the car, just you and the machine and the road -- that nobody can take from you. A power. I feel more myself in my car than anywhere else." In abandoning driving, I have given up power. Napping in the passenger seat is nice (and I do so love Betty Draper's clothing), but I have no desire to turn back the wheels of progress. Losing power is depressing. So is losing ambition -- another sense of the word "drive."

Vogel and the Saudi Arabian legislature connect driving with sexuality. When we take the wheel, we can exert powerful force. Now I am going to take a speculative leap: There may be a connection between giving up one's "drive" -- be it ambition, power, sexuality -- and these waves of depression. Perhaps its part of the aging and hormonal process for women in their forties and fifties, or maybe it's seasonal, but many of my bright and talented friends have been dancers, academics, therapists and lawyers. They are now working mothers, "doing it all". And, oh, they are all really good at being nice. In order to find the balance, to take care of others and remain pleasant, I propose that we have lost some of our drive and it's causing us to suffer. Vogel's Uncle Peck declares, "Men are taught to drive with confidence -- with aggression. The road belongs to them. They drive defensively -- always looking out for the other guy. Women tend to be polite -- to hesitate. And that can be fatal." Hesitating and being polite, if not fatal, can cause depression.

Now here's a thing about reclaiming the wheel: It takes determination.

To get a new driver's license, I had to accumulate proper identification (who at 45 still has her original Social Security Card?) -- not a quick feat. Then came the Dantesque DMV for my written exam. After waiting in lines that effectively recreate the immigrant experience at Ellis Island, I finally ended up on a wooden pew with two other test-takers. Hordes advanced ahead, while we three waited on the pew. Each of us gently tried to inquire if we were seated in the proper location only to hear: "No talking on the bench!" barked at us by a large uniformed man. It could have been a scene out of Kafka, but it was my reality. After emerging from the darkness of the DMV, I had to sit through a class that stressed three ideas (the dangers of alcohol and other drugs, the importance of defensive driving and the meaning of road signs) for a mandated five hours before receiving necessary certification. To fill the time, my teacher, a kindly retired post-office employee from Staten Island, told us his professional life history and then proudly displayed his own driver's license, exclaiming, "Boy, I'm telling you, it gets you around." The videos about drunk driving were strikingly similar to those I watched in high school in 1983. Other than teaching about the threat posed by cell phones and texting, Driver's Ed is still pretty much the same -- the truth of the matter is that you need to learn on the road.

I still have to take my road test. Scheduling it is another hurdle, but I vow to get it done before our wedding anniversary, as a gift to my husband so I can drive on our next family road trip. It turns out that my driving teacher did offer some pearls of wisdom, among them, "Scan Identify Predict Decide Execute" (although SIPDE is not much of an acronym) as a strategy for defensive but assertive driving. Perhaps that might also be a strategy for avoiding the springtime blues.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Manal al-Sharif: "They just messed with the wrong woman"

Saudi women's rights (and driving) activist Manal al-Sharif speaks with Guy Adams of the UK newspaper the Independent. You can link to the story here, and the text is below.

She is the Saudi woman who became a symbol of female emancipation when she was filmed behind the wheel of a car. In a rare interview, she tells Guy Adams of the persecution she has endured in her fight for equality – and why she will not be silenced
She was the plucky young woman who, in splendid defiance of one of the world's most repressive societies, steered a car through the streets of the city of Khobar, railing as she went against the misogyny of laws that make it illegal for women in Saudi Arabia to drive.
Manal al-Sharif was arrested for her pains and spent nine days in jail on suspicion of a crime called "incitement to public disorder". She emerged, almost a year ago, to worldwide fame: an eight-minute film of her protest drive, shot on a friend's smartphone, spread across YouTube, in various iterations, at a rate of a million hits per day.

Since then, Ms Sharif has used her notoriety as the "Saudi Girl Driving" to pursue radical change. She has led mass "protest drives", filed lawsuits against her nation's chauvinistic traffic laws, and recently started a feminist pressure group, My Right to Dignity, which aims to undermine the conservative excesses of an Islamic state which treats women as second-class citizens.

Her struggle hasn't all been plain sailing, though. For all the plaudits (she recently joined Barack Obama and Pippa Middleton in Time magazine's list of the world's "100 most influential" people), she is subjected to daily death threats, and fears for the safety of her parents and her six-year-old son. "I measure the impact I make by how harsh the attacks are," she says. "The harsher the attacks, the better I am doing."

[Following sentence updated:]
A few months ago, Saudi "sources" convinced several media outlets that Ms Sharif had been involved in a fatal car crash that was the subject of a report carried by the news agency AFP. "The whole idea was to say 'see, God is punishing her; women really shouldn't drive!'," she recalls. She soon rang her family, before informing her 90,000 Twitter followers that rumours of her demise were "rubbish".

This month, Ms Sharif has suffered the ultimate sanction for any single mother: the loss of her livelihood. The oil company Aramco, her employer for more than a decade, told her she faced the sack for daring to stick her head above the political parapet.

We meet in Norway, where she has just given a barnstorming speech to the Oslo Freedom Forum, an annual gathering of global human rights activists. A film of her extraordinarily moving presentation, which received an ovation, hit YouTube last week. A quarter of a million people have already watched.

"After I was invited to speak here in Oslo, I asked for four days off and my company refused," she says of her sacking. "My boss called me and said, 'If you are going to talk at another conference, you could lose your job. You are not allowed to go. We don't want our name to be associated with you'."

Ms Sharif went anyway and, at 33, now finds herself jobless and homeless (her flat was owned by Aramco). A lesser woman might feel ground down by that pressure but, looking impressive and poised in her very un-Saudi business attire, she seems energised instead. In a hotel lobby, she angrily rattles through the daily indignities of life in a country which, despite her university education and high-flying CV, forces her to live according to a set of ultra-conservative Islamic protocols which hark back to the Dark Ages.

The lot of Saudi women is shaped by Wahhabism, the most unbending form of the Muslim faith, she explains. The Koran is effectively her nation's constitution and gender apartheid is a cultural obsession. Shops, restaurants, schools and workplaces are sexually segregated, while strict rules, enforced by shadowy religious police, govern every aspect of a woman's existence.

"I'm a single mother and I'm 33 but it's hard to even rent my own apartment without getting my father to sign a piece of paper saying he gives permission," she says. "I went to renew my passport the other day and they told me to come back with my male guardian. That is life, for a Saudi woman; wherever we go, whatever we achieve, we are the property of a man."

A Saudi woman who is beaten or raped by her husband and goes to the police must bring that husband along to formally "identify" her, she adds. Saudi women are forbidden from playing competitive sports and are not due to get the vote until 2015.

The irony of Ms Sharif's life is that she has a deeply conservative background. Born in 1979, she grew up in Mecca, the holiest of holy cities. Her working-class home had separate entrances for men and women. As a child, she remembers burning her brother's pop cassettes in the oven after mullahs told her music came from "Satan's flute".

Later, at university in Jeddah, her class of 60 women was taught computer science in a segregated campus, by professors lecturing from remote locations via closed-circuit television. In keeping with convention, she wore a vast black niqab and long gloves.

Her life changed, almost overnight, on 9/11, orchestrated by her countryman Osama bin Laden. "The extremists told us it was God's punishment to America," she recalls. But on the news that evening, she was sickened by footage of office workers jumping from the twin towers. "I said to myself, 'something is wrong. There is no religion on earth that can accept such mercilessness, such cruelty.'"

Ms Sharif began questioning literalist aspects of her faith. "I realised it is impossible to live with the rules they give Saudi women," she says. "Just impossible. You trying to do everything by the book but you can never stay pure."

After leaving university, she gained further independence by landing a job in information security for Aramco, which had been US-owned. It was a lucky break: of Saudi Arabia's five million women graduates, only about 500,000 are employed. At 24, she got engaged to a co-worker and at 25 they married.

It didn't work out. While Ms Sharif is reluctant to dwell on the details, she says that the kingdom's staggeringly high divorce rate of 60 per cent is rooted in tensions surrounding gender inequality. "My father's generation of Saudi men are more liberal than the men of my generation," she says. "But with women it's the opposite. Women are much less conservative than the men now, and that leads to clashes."

After her divorce, she spent a year in family courts. She won custody of her son but has no legal recourse to maintenance. The experience further convinced her that Saudi women must stand up for their rights. "I cannot make him pay, and this is one of the things we are fighting for," she says. "To have family courts and family laws which protect women and children from abuse."
In 2009, Ms Sharif's employer sent her temporarily to its US office, in Boston. "I remember just thinking it was so incredibly normal," she says. "There were no complications. I could just live a normal life. I could go and look at apartments and sign a contract myself. I went to the bank, and opened an account."

Most importantly, she drove a car. "I thought, 'This is how life should be'."

Not long after returning home, Ms Sharif took her now-famous car journey. It was the start of a long campaign that she says will end only when women in Saudi Arabia become the equals of men. It is a tall order, but she is adamant that it can be done.

"You know what?" she tells people who ask the secret of her success. "They just messed with the wrong woman."

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Manal al-Sharif Wins Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent

Full article below with a link to it here  Excellent YouTube of her acceptance speech too. The speech is quite ground breaking - it explains her own evolution as a fighter for women's dignity and of course the right to drive - but standing up for Saudi women who, in her words, are "voiceless, faceless and nameless".

Saudi woman driver: I was pressured out of my job for my activism

OSLO — In May 2011, Manal al-Sharif did something revolutionary: She drove a car.

In most societies this would be far from noteworthy, but in Saudi Arabia, where women are prohibited from getting behind the wheel, it was an act of extraordinary courage. The protest, which she put on YouTube, landed al-Sharif in jail for nine days. It also made her an international figure. In the last year, she has been named one of the “Top 100 Global Thinkers” by Foreign Policy magazine and one of Time magazine’s “100 most influential people of 2012.”

And last week, the 32-year old Saudi was one of three people awarded the first annual Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent at the Oslo Freedom Forum.

To attend the conference in Norway, al-Sharif says she was pressured out of her job at the Saudi oil company Aramco. Considering she is a working-class single mother, it couldn’t have been an easy decision to continue her human rights fight in the face of such economic pressures. But, as al-Sharif told The Daily Caller, “if you stand up for your beliefs, there is a price to pay.”

“They pressured me a lot and it was like too much to take,” she said, explaining that while she was not explicitly fired, she was increasingly marginalized at the company for her activism, leading to her exit after coming into conflict again with her bosses over attending the conference.

After first stating that she didn’t “want to talk about” the pressure she has suffered under since her Rosa Parks-like act of defiance, she conceded that the Saudi government does “pressure you a lot, whether directly or indirectly.”

“So they can cause a lot of trouble,” she went on. “They scandalize you, they smear you … they spread all these rumors about you … But it’s up to you how to deal with that pressure. The more pressure it is, the more attacks I get, the more impact I know that I’m making.”

During a presentation at the Oslo Freedom Forum, al-Sharif explained how she sympathized with Islamist radicals growing up in Saudi Arabia until two events helped change her perspective. The first, she said, was gaining access to the Internet in 2000.

“It was our first window to the outside world, and I was very curious,” she said in her speech.

“I started talking to other people, raising questions. I began to realize how very small the box I was living in was. I started losing my phobia of having my pure beliefs polluted.”

The second major turning point in her intellectual evolution was the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“They said it was God’s punishment to America,” she said. “I was confused, and didn’t know how to feel. Then on the news, I saw this picture. It was of a man, who threw himself from the towers to escape the fire. I couldn’t sleep that night.”

Ultimately, she concluded that “no religion on earth should be like this.”
“When al-Qaida took responsibility for the attacks, I realized my heroes were nothing but bloody terrorists,” she said.
WATCH: Manal al-Sharif speaks

Today, she continues to fight a difficult battle for more rights for women in the oil-rich kingdom. Dressed in a headscarf, al-Sharif talks like a feminist, but unlike in the United States, discrimination against women in Saudi Arabia is the rule, not the exception.

The discrimination, al-Sharif said, is enforced under the pretext that the Saudi theocracy  is “protecting you from the prying eyes” of men, she told TheDC.

“This is wrong,” she said. “We want our rights … Dignity — that’s what we want.”
Al-Sharif said she would like to see her country become a constitutional monarchy. But under the current undemocratic system, she says her only option to spur change is the type of activism in which she is currently engaged.

“They don’t need us — 95 percent of their income comes from oil,” she said, explaining the dynamic between the monarchy and their millions of subjects. “They don’t need us. So the only way to change — and we don’t have parties, we don’t have parliaments, we don’t have any of these things … So who is going to defend our rights? Us.”

Despite the tremendous international reaction to her act of defiance, al-Sharif told TheDC it wasn’t carefully planned. Rather, it was “spontaneous.”

“The Arab Spring was going all over the Arab world,” she said, explaining the context of her decision. She said she felt the need to stand up for the women in Saudi Arabia who are “voiceless, faceless and nameless.”

“We’re here. We have a face and a name and we want rights,” she said.

But al-Sharif doesn’t see significant immediate changes coming to Saudi Arabia anytime soon.

“We’re changing it for the next generation,” she said. “I don’t think in our generation.”
Editor’s note: The Oslo Freedom Forum sponsored TheDC’s trip to the conference.
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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Let young Saudis be themselves

Fascinating letter to the editor from a Saudi teacher Dr. Khalid al-Seghayer to the English daily The Saudi Gazette about his students being unable to express their opinions on the women driving issue and other social questions. A link to the story is here and the full text is below.

Let young Saudis be themselves


Saudi youths seem to be inhibited from expressing their thoughts or feelings and lack the ability to think independently as well. Neither homes nor schools teach young Saudis how to stand up for their own ideas and thoughts.

At home, expressing views is subject to a hierarchical order. My father or older siblings are entitled to give their opinions concerning, let’s say, a family matter. The same tradition is practiced in schools where teachers are the authority figures. Students are taught to follow precisely whatever their instructors tell them. They should not deviate a bit from the teachers’ thoughts or directions; otherwise, they will put themselves in a difficult situation or, to state the obvious, fail the subject.

This social phenomenon is common in the workforce, especially in the government as opposed to the private sector. It creates, I would contend, a generation of young Saudis who cannot, or who are not willing to, express or communicate freely their thoughts and feelings. When you ask them to state their personal views on a subject, they will either ask you in return about your opinion or refer to what so and so said about the issue under discussion.

Let me relate my recent experience with my own students. I asked them to write an academic essay about whether Saudi women should be allowed to drive. I was shocked when all of them, about 50 students, quoted so and so concerning this topic and did not write their thoughts about this controversial social issue. I confronted them and explained I was interested in what each of them personally thought on the issue, not the opinions of the respected people whom they had quoted.

I returned their essays and instructed them to try again, taking into account their need to express their thoughts. To my surprise, a large number of them could not follow my instructions and thus I found it difficult to extract comments and opinions from my students concerning the subject being discussed.

To find out what was wrong, I held a conference session to discuss why they did not write about what they thought about the issue. The overwhelming comment was, “We are not fully trained to express our thoughts,” or “ We are not accustomed to being given a chance to state our ideas freely and independently.” Some of them also mentioned that they were afraid their thoughts might upset me on the assumption that their thoughts might be different from mine.

The following is an example written by one of the students: “….sheikhs of Saudi Arabia say that women’s driving is forbidden. They contend that the disadvantages are more dangerous than the advantages…some of these Islamic scholars say that women driving will be the starting point of Westernizing the Saudi society which will eventually break the teachings of our religion.”

The conclusion that I would like to leave you with is that the inability of young Saudi citizens to express their own thoughts deserves our greatest attention. It also shows us the importance of reconsidering our approaches when it comes to raising and educating our youth.

So let’s do something to make our young Saudi generation aware of the different ways in which they can communicate a range of feelings and thoughts and, most importantly, express their ideas and insights independently.

— The writer is a Saudi academic who can be reached at

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Woman Matters - Opinion Piece by Reem M. Asaad

Opinion piece in the Saudi English language daily Arab News by Reem M. Assad, about the key factor of mobility in women's advancement in Saudi Arabia. You can link to the article here and it's pasted below.

May 2, 2012 01:12 Updated: May 2, 2012 01:12

The simplest right

In one media release, Princess Hessa bint Salman, a well-known female figure and a patron of some women activities in the Kingdom, underscored the significance of various government and private organizations in fulfilling their social responsibility by ensuring the participation of women in the development of national industries.

The press release goes on “Princess Hessa was attending a ceremony where an agreement to establish the women’s wing of the Military Clothes and Supplies Factory in the western region was signed.”

The above hardly turns any heads because the era of King Abdullah was marked by many significant and unprecedented advances in women status and work rights. In fact, never were women able to travel on academic and training scholarships with such ease and support as they are today.

Despite all this, inside Saudi Arabia, women still don’t have the legal right to travel from point A to point B independently without a male driver (personal or other), period. And in my opinion, anything said about women advancing without the right of mobility (or at least proper public transport) is plainly limped. Undoubtedly many influential figures wish they could drive, that regulations were more accommodating or that court rules bent more in their favor but good will alone doesn’t change anything. Only the government can. The usual rhetoric about the public acceptance of women driving no longer flies. Sorry, dear women, you are not independent until you can move freely down your own streets.

An ideal woman
So, the headlines flash out about a Saudi female doctor, scientist or other professional with outstanding award or breakthrough. The press coverage often glamorizes this achievement with plenty of additives on how she overcame cultural barriers with the support of a husband, father or other male relative, a credit that society and local followers expect to see. After a usually engaging — and sometimes inspiring — story of the journey come the reader comments.

In Saudi, the most important aspect of woman participation in public life and economic sphere remains to be … modesty. Her modesty determines whether she is a “fit” Saudi woman or a “model Saudi woman” (i.e. representative of her fellow Saudi women). So if her picture appears in the news, she is judged by the level of coverage on her face. On a scale from completely veiled (face unseen) to bare head — with many variations in between — a woman’s appearance in commented on and therefore the woman gets “labeled” or socially stratified based on the level of modesty.

In fairness, a woman is judged on her looks everywhere in the world, and modesty is a key part of professional appearance yet ranking it as the most critical feature of an achieving woman who serves her community is nothing but ridiculous.

So, who is the “picture perfect” Saudi woman these days?

The majority across the board will probably describe her as a well-covered, (ideally niqab-wearing and at a minimum full hair coverage without makeup) preferably a mother who handles both work and household responsibilities.

Reader comments gauge not only public opinion but also cultural sentiment and perception of the society. Sometimes I skip the headlines right down to these comments just to assess if anything has changed, and I do sense some progress that is a bit too slow for my taste.

Money matters
The banking sector in Saudi Arabia remains to be the most regulated and organized in the economy. Since the seventies, women worked in women-only branches as tellers, customer service representatives and branch managers. My own mother was an officer in one of Jeddah’s most prominent banks, and as a child I accompanied her during school breaks to an office of fewer than ten women. I remember how I was — to my greatest amusement — assigned to small tasks like paper copying or delivery. Two decades later things have not changed much in terms of organizational structure. In fact, it was not until 2001 that the bank at which my mother worked, allowed women a slow and shy entry to more senior and gender-mixed positions. I was among three women appointed in executive roles not limited to servicing women-only. Today, the bank employs at least 100 women in its headquarters in positions ranging from junior assistants to department heads. The journey since then is worth documenting. It involves cultural, religious and technical anecdotes to be taught and to be learned from. Among other writers, I credit the financial industry for bringing to the society a generation of well-trained professional women as well as more relaxed and “female accepting” men who now view women as an integral part of the workplace and not just the social and household scene.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Christiane Ammanpour Interviews Manal al-Sharif in NYC

Excellent interview by Christiane Ammanpour with Manal al-Sharif in New York.

Shaimah Jastaniah Lashing Sentence Dropped

The Atlantic reports that the lashing sentence of Jeddah driver Shaimah Jastaniah, who had been sentenced to ten lashes for driving illegally, has been overturned. A link to the story is here and pasted in below.

Saudi Woman, Sentenced to 'Lashing' for Driving, Will Not Be Whipped

By Max Fisher
Nearly a year after she was arrested for defying the law banning women from driving, Shaima Jastaniah has finally won a reprieve from her sentence.

saudi sep26 p.jpgSaudi women in Riyadh speak to the media after driving their vehicles in defiance of the ban on driving. Reuters

Jastaniah was one of many Saudi women who got behind the wheel last summer to protest the archaic law forbidding women from driving, which is both a symbol and embodiment of the country's harsh treatment of its women. That September, she was sentenced to a punishment as barbaric as the law it was enforcing: ten lashes. Later that month, Princess Ameerah al-Taweel, the wife of King Abdallah's influential nephew, tweeted that the king had pardoned Jastaniah, which was broadly taken as true.

In December, Texas-based academic Nivien Saleh, who was Jastaniah's professor when she studied in the U.S., reported at that she was to be lashed despite the pardon. By then, she had become a symbol not just of Saudi women defiantly fighting for their rights, but of the opaque and often arbitrary Saudi justice system. The police told her, pardon or no, she was scheduled to be flogged for daring to drive.

Saleh, who had become close with her former student, now writes to announce that Jastaniah will be spared. The good news came during one of their regular phone conversations. Earlier this month, "Shaima [Jastaniah] received a call from the Jeddah Police Department demanding that she come in for fingerprinting," Saleh told me over email. "At the police station, she was told that her lashing sentence had been dropped, not in response to the petition filed by her attorneys (nor the international attention caused by the Atlantic story, for that matter), but because the police department itself had filed a routine petition for pardon, which was accepted."

In other words, the police in Jeddah, Jastaniah's hometown, are insisting that it was entirely their idea to drop the lashing. Saleh added that her lawyers, which have been working to save her from the whip since September, "are convinced that it was their petition that brought this positive outcome into being." Either way, after months of wondering if she would be whipped for the simple act of driving, the uncertainty itself must have become a burden, and one imagines it is a relief for her to put it behind her.

Still, the police warned Jastaniah that she would be lashed if she drove again. "When fingerprinting Shaima, the police told her that she now had a police record detailing how she had broken the laws of the country. The record would have no negative consequences for her ability to be employed. But if she drove a second time, she would indeed be lashed," Saleh explained. "Shaima's attorneys are confident that they will be able to get her police record expunged."

So it's not all good news: the driving ban is still in place, as is the law encouraging police to beat women like pack animals for committing the "crime" of driving down the street. But this one woman appears to have outmaneuvered the Saudi police and escaped their whips. That's what passes for justice in today's Saudi Arabia.