Saudi Women In Charge

By: Hyacinth Mascarenhas

While the rest of world sets its eyes on Egypt, Yemen, and Libya, Saudi Arabia is focused on a major national issue: women behind the wheel. A Saudi woman was detained on Saturday for driving a car in al-Khobar in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province on the Persian Gulf, a day after posting footage on YouTube showing her behind the wheel.

Manal al-Sharif, 32, was detained again on Sunday for defying the ban on women drivers in the conservative Kingdom. Her brother, Mohammed al-Sherif, who was in the car with her when she drove, also was detained Sunday.

According to local reports, the computer security consultant has been sentenced to five days in prison. She has also been charged with: “bypassing rules and regulations, driving a car within the city, enabling a journalist to interview her while driving a car, deliberately disseminating the incident to the media, incitement of Saudi women to drive cars, and turning public opinion against the regulations.”

Adhering to a strict interpretation of the Wahabi version of Sunni Islam, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women, both Saudi and foreign, from driving. Women are also not permitted to travel on their own or receive an education without male approval, cannot mix with unrelated men in public places or vote in municipal elections.

Maha Taher, a well-known social activist in Saudi Arabia and co-founder of Social Awareness for female Entitlements (SAFE) stated, “I doubt anyone can say religiously Islam prevents females from driving because Khawla bint Al Azwar, during our Prophet Muhammed’s (PBUH) time, rode horses and no one stopped her.  Therefore in this day and age, why are men stopping women from driving?  Cars and horses are the same, they are both means of transportation.”

Although there is no specific written law that bans women from driving, the Kingdom requires citizens to use a locally issued license while in the country. These licenses, however, are not issued to women.  Taher continues, “I hope for the immediate release of our sister and daughter of this country, Manal Al-Sharif, and for the lifting of injustice.  As she drove, she was accompanied by her licensed brother and with his consent to drive, recognized in accordance with the traffic system, contained in Article II, paragraph 34.  She did not have a Saudi national driving license because Saudi does not issue national driving licenses for women, yet they issue international ones for us.”

Al-Sharif and other activists launched a campaign on Facebook and Twitter calling on women in Saudi Arabia who hold international drivers’ licenses to drive their cars to protest the ban on Friday, June 17. The Facebook page, called “Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself” gained more than 12,000 followers before being removed by Saudi censors. The campaign’s Twitter account was also deactivated.

Human rights activist, Waleed Abu Alkhair, has already prepared a petition to be sent to King Abdullah collecting more than four hundred signatures from Saudi citizens within hours of posting the petition.

“The time has come to resolve the issue of women’s driving once and for all in a clear manner. To say that it’s a social issue and is not prohibited by religion, and then for women to get arrested is completely unjust leaving us trapped in a vicious circle,” said the online petition.



One Comment

  1. We have special traditional in Saudi Arabia because most people follow the rules of Bedwen       

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