Wednesday, February 27, 2013

My Attempt to Break the Driving Ban in Saudi Arabia

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.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Saudi woman disguises as man to drive bus

A Saudi woman in Saudi Arabia's southwest drives female teachers to school; and the elders approve. The text of the story is below and a link to it is here.  It appears she is still driving, and no longer has to dress as a man.

Saudi woman disguises as man to drive bus

Ruse spotted when she had henna designs applied on her skin

By Habib Toumi, Bureau Chief
Published: 10:30 February 25, 2013
Manama: A Saudi woman said that she had to disguise herself as a man to be able to drive a bus and help her needy family.

Women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, even though there is no legal text to support the ban.

However, Saliha who lived with her parents and four sisters in a remote area in the south west of the Saudi kingdom, said that she volunteered to take up the job to assist her old father.
“I live with my parents and four sisters and our conditions are very difficult,” Saliha said. “One day, my father thought about launching a bus service to drive female students in our area to their schools. He discussed the idea with the village men and they all agreed since they trusted my father and they were confident that he would be keen on protecting them. They also thought that driving the bus would be an opportunity for him to make some money,” she told local Arabic daily Al Sharq.

However, Saliha thought that she could help her father and do the job instead.

“I looked at his poor health condition and advanced age and I requested him to allow me to replace him, especially that I was a good driver. My father in fact taught me how to drive since I was young. It took some time before he was convinced that I could drive the bus instead of him,” she said.

Saliha put on a man’s clothes, hid her facial features and sat behind the steering wheel. For some time, nobody spotted the ruse.

“One day, I put on henna designs and some young men saw it,” she said.

“They assembled around me to try to understand why a 'man' would put some henna on and I told them that I was a woman and explained the whole situation. The next day, some elders from the village came to see my father and we were afraid they would reprimand him for what happened. However, we were relieved to learn that they were delighted with the fact that I could drive their daughters to school,” she said.

Saliha said that she reverted to her woman’s clothes and that she was earning SR4,000 a month for her job.

“The fact that there is no traffic police in the area and the absence of major administrative facilities have enabled me to drive freely,” she said.

Monday, February 18, 2013

It's Raining Cars!

This fun photo montage comes to you via my friend Sherifa Zuhur (author of Saudi Arabia: Middle East in Focus (and many other books). She found it on a wordpress blog,

Saudi forces arrest female driver in Riyadh

Passing along this article from the PressTV website. The text is pasted below and a link to it is here.

Saudi forces have arrested a young woman in the capital, Riyadh, for driving after her car crashed, local sources reported.

According to Qatif news agency, the driver was a university student and she was accompanied by two other women at the time of the accident.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are prohibited from driving. The ban is not enforced by law but is a religious fatwa imposed by the country's Wahhabi clerics.

If women get behind the wheel in the kingdom, they may be arrested, sent to court and even flogged. In 2011, a Saudi woman was jailed after she posted a video of herself driving in the Saudi city of Khobar on YouTube.

Saudi women have mounted several campaigns to try and overturn the ban in recent years.

In June 2012, hundreds of Saudi women petitioned the Kingdom’s ruler King Abdullah to reconsider the ban on women driving and allow them to get behind the wheel.
"We only want to enjoy the right to drive like all women all over the world," said the petition.
They also called on King Abdullah to "establish driving schools for women and (begin) issuing licenses," saying that 5,000 Saudi women have applied for driving licenses in 2012.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Niqabs no replacement for helmets in Saudi: female motorbike accidents on the rise

Great story by Marwa Haddad about Saudi women riding motorcycles; headscarves are getting caught int he wheels and cause serious accidents. The story is pasted in below and a link to it is here.

Niqabs no replacement for helmets in Saudi: female motorbike accidents on the rise

Published February 7th, 2013 - 05:00 GMT via
Increasing numbers of women in Saudi Arabia are taking up motorcycle riding
Increasing numbers of women in Saudi Arabia are taking up motorcycle riding

Motorcycle riding is a popular pastime in Saudi Arabia, but not just among young men and boys. Many women have taken up the recreational activity, the result being an increased presence of injured women in hospital emergency rooms.

In Alkhobar, King Fahd University Hospital announced it has delivered emergency treatment to more than 350 women and children who suffered various kinds of injuries, including fractures and suffocation, that resulted from motorcycle sand-drifting during semester-break beach and desert trips. The main reason for women riders’ injuries, said Dr. Muhammad Al-Jamaan of Jeddah’s King Fahd Hospital, is abayas being caught by the wheel.

Abdulrahman Al-Sahafi, Director of Information and Public Relations at Health Affairs in Jeddah, said there are no reliable numbers for cases of women injured riding motorcycles in Jeddah, adding that the low number of such cases in Jeddah is due to the fact the city lacks the open spaces required for such activity, unlike in Khobar and Riyadh. “Driving motorcycles in Jeddah takes place at the Corniche mostly,” he said.

Mustafa Qurban, Director of Information and Public Relations at the Jeddah Mayor’s Office, said motorcycles are not allowed at the Corniche.

“Police mostly pursue us.
The number of women renting motorcycles is small,” said an owner of motorcycles.

A number of residents said many girls are seen driving motorcycles at the beach “and speeding recklessly,” said Hanan Muhammad. Some of them called for wide spaces that allow girls to practice the activity safely. “Isn’t it enough that we cannot practice the sport of walking or commute easily,” said Um Abdullah.

By Marwa Haddad

Monday, February 4, 2013

Saudi Activist Manal al-Sharif Shares Her Story

Saudi women's rights and driving rights activist Manal al-Sharif visited the campus of Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota last week. She was there to talk about her computer programming career at Saudi Aramco, and also gave a talk at a lunch about women driving in Saudi Arabia. I contacted one of the coordinators of the lunch to try to get more information about how the presentations went, but no one has returned my e-mails. So here is a story from the college paper. The story is pasted in below and a link to the story online is here.

An Angry Woman: Saudi Activist Manal al-Sharif Shares Her Story of Defiance and Liberation
January 31, 2013

Manal al-Sharif was angry.

A 30-year-old Saudi wife, mother and working professional, she faced harassment, sometimes violent, when walking down the street unaccompanied. “You deserve whatever happens to you when you uncover your face,” she was told. And despite her age and accomplishments, al-Sharif was still forced to hire a male driver if she wanted to avoid walking. In Saudi Arabia, while not technically illegal, it is socially unacceptable for women to drive.

The plight of al-Sharif and other Saudi women extends far beyond the right to drive. In 2009 the World Economic Forum ranked Saudi Arabia 131st out of 134 countries in a survey of gender equality (the United States ranked 31st). Women of any age are considered minors under Saudi law, and gender segregation pervades all sectors of Saudi society.

“Half the society is paralyzed,” al-Sharif said. “Driving is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Al-Sharif’s campaign for the right to drive in Saudi Arabia, and the backlash she faced from many Saudis, was the subject of a talk and discussion session recently held at Carleton College. During the event, which was sponsored by the Women’s Awareness House, students had the opportunity to ask al-Sharif questions about her experiences, the political situation in Saudi Arabia and the prospects for change.

Al-Sharif’s campaign began as a personal act of defiance, she told the Carleton audience. On her birthday in the spring of 2011, she decided to violate the unwritten laws of Saudi Arabia and drive a car. A friend in the car with al-Sharif filmed the drive and posted the video to YouTube. It was her way of saying “enough is enough,” she said.

The video soon attracted national and worldwide attention, garnering millions of views. Al-Sharif noted that Saudi Arabia and many other Arab countries are heavy users of modern technology—60% of Saudis have smartphones—and that social media such as Twitter has been used to spur social change in places like Iran and Egypt as well as Saudi Arabia.

Al-Sharif was detained, released and rearrested by the Saudi government, charged with “inciting women to drive” and “rallying public opinion.” She helped create Women2Drive, an advocacy group supportive of the right to drive, and began pursuing legal action for the right to drive. Though there is no law against female drivers, Saudis require a locally issued license in order to drive, and these licenses are not issued to women.

In response to a question about whether social change is possible in Saudi Arabia, al-Sharif said that the first step was letting women know they have rights, which is part of Women2Drive’s goal.

“Change in any society starts with women,” al-Sharif said. “Women are so powerful, but they don’t recognize their power.”

Al-Sharif noted that many of the most vicious attacks on her have come from Saudi women, many of whom are “programmed” to believe themselves inferior to men. Without understanding their rights, it will be hard for Saudi women to stand up for themselves.

Nevertheless, Women2Drive has continued its campaign, expanding its fight to include other rights for women. While al-Sharif believes that a major shift will only come with the creation of a constitutional monarchy, which is unlikely to happen anytime soon, she believes her organization can gradually achieve real progress for Saudi women.

“I will not stop until the first drivers’ license is issued to a woman,” al-Sharif said.

Written by Jacob Cohn '13