Great blog post by Omaima Najjar about her escapades driving in Saudi Arabia with her brother. The post is pasted in below and you can link to her blog here.
After I was inspired by Manal Al Shirf campaign I asked my brother to teach me how to drive. Back then I was living in Riyadh city.
Our teaching sessions have always started on Friday or Thursday
mornings that’s when the streets are less busy. After making a good
progress my brother started letting me drive to my hometown, the Eastern
province, which is about 450 kms away. After we pass the check points
we would swap the seats and I would sit behind the wheels and drive. I
traveled to China but I came back to Saudi to visit my family 5 weeks
ago and I wanted to continue learning.
Every time I drive my brother would sit next to me to give me instructions. I have been driving in the streets of Al Khobar
for the last 5 weeks and I never had a problem. I even once went to a
drive through coffee shop next to crowded oil station on half moon beach
and ordered some coffee and then went to the beach. Some people would
give me the V sign and others would just start taking pictures and
videos of me while I’m driving!
2 days ago I went out for another training session but this time I wasn’t very lucky, As I was driving in the streets of Al Khobar city
I lost my way and went to the wrong direction, I ended up driving next
to the police station! There were few police cars outside driving on
the same highway, So I kept slowing down and driving on the right side
of the road but my heart was racing. 3 police cars passed and none of
them noticed me; there was even one of the police cars on the opposite
direction, taking a U turn, the police car was less than 2 meters away
but luckily didn’t notice me too. Suddenly, a speedy police car was
driving on the left side of the highway started to slow down
dramatically. Apparently, someone has just told the police that there is
a woman in the back driving a grand marquis 2007. The police officer
took the right track, slowed down, opened his car window and started
looking at us, that’s when I decided to turn on the headlights of the
car so the officer won’t see me, and then I started driving on the left
track of the highway where most speedy cars go. Obviously, it wasn’t a
good idea; they became more suspicious and started chasing after me!
They kept asking me to pull over..
I pulled over safely like a pro driver, 2 police officers came to me
and one of them said, Mashallah , you clearly can drive! But women are
not allowed to drive here, it’s against the law, there is a law from the
ministry of interior affairs to punish women who drive ”. I can tell
from their accent, one of the police officers is from Najad
and the other is southern Saudi. The Najedi officer started asking me
questions like what’s your name? where are you from? Where do you live?
Are you Shiite or Sunni? So I answered all his questions but I never said I’m Shiite.
In the beginning the two officers were very cooperative ,they Said”
don’t worry, we will let you go this time, but since the department of
traffic police has been informed that there is a woman driving on the
highway and they know we stopped you too, so we cannot let you go or
lie to them but when our boss comes we will tell him that you were
caught driving inside the nearby neighborhood, we don’t want him to know
you were caught driving on the highway, because if we tell him you were
caught driving on the highway you will be facing serious punishments,
such as confiscation of your vehicle, 10 days behind bars and 5000 SR
fee. So my brother and I swapped the seats, he followed the police to a
nearby neighborhood and stopped the car there, we made the scene
perfect before the arrival of their boss.
As we are waiting for the other police cars to come, the Najdi police
officer took my ID card to see my full name. Al Najjar is either a
western Saudi name or eastern Saudi name and I had an eastern accent.
Knowing that the majority of people who are from eastern province are
Shiite, the police became suspicious, so he asked me again ”are you
Shiite?” But I refused to answer him, so he took my brother outside the
car and asked him if he was Shiite and my brother said yes. We just knew
the Najedi officer was up to no good.
An Hour later, another 2 police car and 4 police officers came. One
of the police officer looked older than the others with a higher rank,
he was clearly the boss, he came to me and asked me if I I was driving
on the highway and I sticked to the plan and said’ No, I was driving
inside the neighborhood’. However, The Najadi Officer started shouting
at us calling us liars and that I was caught driving on the highway. His
mate kept silent, I can tell he was shocked too.
Now saying I was driving in the neighborhood was not my plan at all,
it was actually the police officers plan. but, The Najadi officer turned
against us after he knew we were Shiite.
He drove the police car behind us inside a nearby neighborhood to
make the scene perfect before the arrival of his boss. He also made us
lie to his boss and then he started shouting at us calling us liars!!
What’s even worse is that the Najdi officer told his boss that his mate
was trying to help us and let us get away with it.
After about 2 hours of questioning, the 2 police cars left, They told
us wait with the police. We kept waiting for another 30 minutes inside
the car, they 2 police officers who stopped us kept waiting for us too.
But then after a while the southern police officer gave me back my ID
card he said it’s okay you can go now.
My brother and I went home, this time my brother was driving. The
southern police officer later called me on the phone telling me was
punished because his mate who turned against us told his boss that his
mate was trying to help up!
I am not afraid of breaking the driving ban again; I will get a driving license first and will drive again.