Saturday, May 28, 2011

Saudi Gazette: Al-Sharief probe extends to two others

DAMMAM: The investigation into Manal Al-Sharief, the woman held in a Dammam prison after being arrested last Saturday for driving in Al-Khobar, has widened to include two other women for their role in the incident, Al-Watan Arabic daily reported Friday.
The newspaper quoted sources as saying that an order to summon for questioning had been issued for one woman believed to have filmed Al-Sharief as she drove her car, and another said to be the supervisor of the “I’ll Drive My Car Myself” Facebook campaign on the Internet, described as a university student and friend of Al-Sharief.
When contacted by Al-Watan, the first woman denied any connection to the campaign, saying only that she was a “sympathizer; and “supporting member”.
According to the newspaper, the summons for questioning was made after Al-Khobar Police presented a list of names to the Eastern Province Emir’s Office which ordered the immediate detention of the women whose names are on the list and that their statements be taken on the aims of the campaign.
Manal Al-Sharief, meanwhile, had her detention at Dammam’s Women’s extended for 10 days from Thursday.
Saudi Gazette reported Friday that her lawyer, Waleed Abu Al-Khair, told The Associated Press that the prosecutor general had extended her detention by “another ten days while she is investigated”, a move he described as “a message that any woman who dares to drive her car will face the same fate”.
– Saudi Gazette

Hands Off the Wheel - Foreign Policy Magazine

Cameron Abadi has written a brilliant opinion piece/essay analyzing the most ridiculous arguments against Saudi women driving. What is important here is that it's Foreign Policy writing about the issue. Which means, the issue is important. We knew that all along, right? Nice they agree. Below is the link to the story.

Hands Off the Wheel - Foreign Policy

Thursday, May 26, 2011

More Saudi Women Record Driving Videos

Robert Mackey of the New York Times blog The Lede updates his readers on the news of Saudi women driving, including Manal al-Sharief.
Here is a link to his story.
Robert Mackey's Blog Entry on Saudi Women in NYTimes Blog

Manal Al-Sharief's lawyer statements; petition for her release underway

In contrast to the Saudi Gazette article in my previous post, this article in the Arab News by Fatimah Sidiya gives the update on issues surrounding Manal Al-Sharief's detention. Her case has been moved to the Eastern Province governate. And a petition with more than 1,000 signatures is being organized on her behalf.
Since I printed the whole of the Saudi Gazette article yesterday; here is the Arab News story. Thank you, "Tara Um Umar" for letting me know about this story from the Arab News.

Manal Al-Sharief - Testing Time
JEDDAH: The lawyer of Manal Al-Sharif — the 32-year-old Saudi woman who drove her car in Alkhobar on Saturday — denied that Al-Sharif burst into tears inside the women's section of the Dammam prison and asked her investigators to extend their questioning to include a number of women who led her into controversy.
A local Arabic daily on Tuesday claimed it had the names of the women, some of them living outside the country, who incited Al-Sharif to go out to the street, drive her car and film the move.
The daily also reported Al-Sharif as saying that the instigators assured her that there was no punishment under Saudi Arabia’s traffic laws for women drivers.
According to the newspaper, Al-Sharif appeared not to believe what was happening to her.
Adnan Al-Saleh, Al-Sharif’s lawyer, denied the report and quoted Al-Sharif as saying, “I did not cry and will not break down as long as King Abdullah is there.”
Al-Sharif was accused of violating the general rules by pushing other women to drive cars and stirring up public opinion.
Sources told Arab News that Al-Sharif’s case had been transferred to the governorate in the Eastern Province and that there was no exact time for her release.
Up to 1,000 citizens of both genders, meanwhile, signed a petition for Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah in which they asked for the immediate release of Al-Sharif.
The petitioners included activists, bloggers, academics and students.
The letter stated that she was “accompanied by her brother and with his consent and license to drive, recognized in accordance with the traffic system and contained in Article II, paragraph 34.”
It added: “We also believe that the time has come to clearly resolve the issue of women driving cars. It is unjust to say it is a social issue and that our religion does not prevent ladies from driving, while simultaneously arresting a woman driving her car. We are in need of a clear system, either to prevent women from driving, or, in case female driving is allowed, a clear indication that ladies are permitted to drive cars in Saudi Arabia.”

Link to the story: Manal Al-Sharief - Testing Time

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Manal al-Sharief reportedly has change of heart

The Saudi Gazette is reporting that Manal al-Sharief has changed her mind about encouraging Saudi women to drive. She is being held in the Dammam women's prison. Efforts are continuing to get her released.
Here is the link to the story: Saudi Gazette Story on Manal al-Sharief

Here is the entire text.

I made a mistake: Al-Sharief

DAMMAM: Manal Al-Sharief admits she made a mistake by driving a car in the Kingdom and promises never to do it again. This is according to Dr. Ghazi Al-Shammari, Chairman of the Family Solidarity Committee in the Eastern Province Emirate, who told Okaz/Saudi Gazette that this is what Al-Sharief told him when he visited her at the Women’s Prison in Dammam.
Al-Sharief is the 32-year-old Saudi woman who was detained Saturday for driving a car in Al-Khobar.
Al-Shammari had visited her accompanied by Brig. Gen. Abdullah Al-Boushi, Director of the Eastern Province Prisons.
He said he spoke to her and quoted her as saying, “I made a mistake and I’m a daughter of this nation. I have nobody but my family and the sons and daughters of my nation. I advise girls of my generation to rally behind our leadership and Ulema. They know better than us about our condition. I’m confident about what I’m saying after sitting alone and contemplating.”She added that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is special because it has the Two Holy Mosques, is a refuge for Muslim hearts and is quite different from other countries in the world.
Al-Sharief said she was well cared for and only wanted to return to her family and her work. She had repeated she made a mistake and confirmed she would not repeat the action again, according to Al-Shammari, who was quoting a conversation Al-Boushi had with her about her needs in prison.
A source in the General Administration for Prisons said the administration in Dammam wrote a letter Wednesday to enquire about her situation. The letter also enquires about the possibility of detaining her in Al-Khobar Police Station or whether her detention should continue in the Women’s Prison in Dammam. She is expected to be released Thursday.
Other sources told Okaz/Saudi Gazette that great efforts are being made to get her released and that her remorse would be sufficient to ensure her freedom.
Okaz/Saudi Gazette reported earlier that Al-Sharief also plans to withdraw from the campaign for women to drive, according to a source at the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR). The source said members of the NSHR met with Al-Sharief at the prison for 90 minutes on Tuesday and described her condition and treatment as good.
“Manal wants to be released,” the source said. “She said the investigation had been carried out and she will withdraw from the campaign calling for women to drive cars.”
– Okaz/Saudi Gazette

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Women behind the wheel in remote Asir areas

In a striking contrast to the drama unfolding with Manal al-Sharif in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Gazette carries a story today about how Saudi women have no trouble and find no resistance as they drive in the rural province of Asir in the southwest of the country. Rural areas in general seem to have accepted the practice of women driving.

The writer is Saeed al-Zahrani - from his name it sounds like he is from the Asir himself.

Women behind the wheel in remote Asir areas
It was a simple need to drive that motivated them to learn how to do so, not a desire to defy social norms and traffic laws, they said.
The needs of their families would at times compel them to drive beyond the countryside areas, either for shopping at town malls or getting treatment at hospitals, they said.
Rafah Al-Qahtani, a mother of eight, said she had to learn how to drive after her husband’s death and inherited the car from him.
She said she never felt discriminated against or alienated for being behind the wheel.
“Now I can go shopping on my own, trade at the animal stock market and take my kids wherever they need to go,” she said.
“I do what men can do now.”
Al-Qahtani said that if she did not learn how to drive, she would have been begging men for favors.
“Had I left my destiny in the hands of men, my kids would not have gone to school or even to the hospital,” she said.
“They were very young when their father passed away.”
Fatmah Al-Qahtani said she has refused to get married so she could devote herself to helping her aging parents and her young siblings.
She had to learn how to drive to help the family and uses her car to bring groceries to their remote house from nearby towns, take her parents for medical check-ups and take care of their farmland and animals – their only source of income.
Women are also driving in central Saudi Arabia because they have no alternative; these women have never been questioned by their people and some husbands have taught their wives to drive.
– Okaz/Saudi Gazette __

New York Times on arrest of Manal al-Sharif

Saudis Arrest Woman Leading Right-to-Drive Campaign

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — The government of Saudi Arabia moved swiftly to extinguish a budding protest movement of women claiming the right to drive, a campaign inspired by uprisings across the Arab world demanding new freedoms but at risk Monday of foundering.
Ed Ou for The New York Times
Cars at a checkpoint near a mall entrance in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. A national protest supporting the right for women to drive is scheduled for June 17.
Manal al-Sharif, 32, one of the campaign organizers, was detained Sunday in the eastern city of Dammam for up to five days on charges of disturbing public order and inciting public opinion by twice driving in a bid to press her cause, said her lawyer, Adnan al-Saleh.
Ms. Sharif was arrested after two much-publicized drives last week to highlight the Facebook and Twitter campaigns she helped organize to encourage women across Saudi Arabia to participate in a collective protest scheduled for June 17.
The campaigns, which had attracted thousands of supporters — more than 12,000 on the Facebook page — have been blocked in the kingdom. Ms. Sharif’s arrest was very likely intended to give others pause before participating in the protests in a country where a woman’s public reputation, including her ability to marry, can be badly damaged by an arrest.
“Usually they just make you sign a paper that you will not do it again and let you go,” said Wajiha Howeidar, who recorded Ms. Sharif while driving on Thursday. “They don’t want anybody to think that they can get away with something like that. It is a clear message that you cannot organize anything on Facebook. That is why she is in prison.”
The revolt that overthrew the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, and similar efforts in the Middle East gained crucial momentum online.
Saudi Arabia is the only country that bars women from driving. But the topic remains a highly emotional issue in the kingdom, where women are also not allowed to vote, or even work without their husbands’, or fathers’, permission. For religious puritans, the ban on women driving is a sign that the government remains steadfast in the face of a Western onslaught on Saudi traditions. A political cartoon here once depicted car keys attached to a hand grenade.
Even before the arrest, the debate was raging online, on television and in the streets between supporters and opponents. One argument endorsing the change is that women drove donkeys in Koranic times, with a television cleric noting in recent days that handling a donkey was actually harder than driving a vehicle. Supporters believed that the changes sweeping the Arab world made it the right moment for women to seize the initiative.
An online petition addressed to King Abdullah, asking him to free Ms. Sharif and grant women the right to drive, gathered signatures from more than 600 men and women after it was organized by Walid Abu al-Khair, a Saudi lawyer and human rights advocate. Saudis are often reluctant to publicly attach their names to political actions.
Many opponents were religious puritans who object to the very idea of women being exposed to strangers outside their homes by driving. The ban is rooted more primarily in religious fatwas, nonbinding decrees by clerics.
In the new online battlefield, conservative clerics have been deploying their own Twitter accounts to call on the religious police to be extra vigilant against the prospect of women drivers.
Some women were opposed, too, because they said that driving remains such a social lightning rod and that raising the issue is likely to set back efforts to gain more fundamental freedoms like voting or ending the legal guardianship that allows Saudi men to control virtually every aspect of women’s lives.
But Ms. Sharif and others decided to take to the roads in May to encourage a higher turnout for the national protest. Saudi newspapers have been filled with articles in recent days detailing a rash of women taking to the roads — publishing confessions of women who drove their children to school, a father to the airport or themselves on errands.
One of the arguments for allowing women to drive is the economic cost. There are some 800,000 foreign drivers in the kingdom, and the roughly $350 monthly salary needed to hire one is considered an economic drain on the middle class.
Ms. Sharif, an information technology specialist with the state-run oil company Aramco, has a reputation for pulling stunts to highlight the lack of rights for women. Such was her renown that certain myths about her circulate widely as fact—like the false tale that she once rode a donkey down a main Riyadh shopping street until the religious police stopped her.
She took her drive on Saturday with her brother Mohamed al-Sharif, who was initially detained with her by the religious police and then released. The local police returned to her house after midnight to arrest her again.
“That was a mistake,” Mr. Saleh, her lawyer, said in a telephone interview from Dammam. “It is not considered a big crime in Saudi Arabia — it was not smuggling drugs, nor murder, nor rape — it was a girl driving a car.”

Link to the story:
New York Times Article on Manal al-Sharif

Monday, May 23, 2011

Let women drive ... get over your fear of the unknown - Okaz and Arab News

The Arab News translated and published an Op-ed from the Arabic Okaz, "Let women drive...get over your fear of the unknown."  It's an excellent piece that gives an excellent rebuttal to arguments against it.

Here is the link to the article, written by Khalaf al-Harbi.

Let women drive...get over your fear of the unknown

Manal al-Sharief remains in detention; appeal underway

The Saudi Gazette reports that Saudi woman driver Manal al-Sharief remains in detention in al-Dammam in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province. Previous reports said her father had obtained her release. 

Here is the story, and a link to it below:

Detained Saudi woman driver appeals for bail

DAMMAM: Manal Masoud Al-Sharief, the Saudi woman detained at Dammam’s Women’s Prison after being arrested for driving a car in Al-Khobar earlier this week, has requested release on bail.
Al-Sharief’s lawyer Adnan Al-Salih, said the request was made Monday and that his client was awaiting a response from the Eastern Province Emirate.
She is being held on charges of “rallying public opinion and inciting women to drive cars”.
“The initial measures taken against her in terms of holding her for investigation for five days are regulatory,” he said.
“She had been investigated by the authority that first detained her, Al-Khobar Traffic Police, and they completed their inquiries and released her, but she has now been arrested over a ‘criminal case’,” Al-Salih said.
He said the investigator can legitimately hold Al-Sharief for 24 hours or more depending on the investigation and the nature and extent of the crime concerned.
“We are working to have her released as she is a working mother, so her detention is affecting both her job and her family,” he said.
Al-Sharief herself is reportedly calm and unperturbed at her detention, spending much of her time in conversation with other inmates. She is not being held in a single cell, and as of Monday was expecting her first visitor, her father.
A Prison Administration official said she was being treated “just like any other inmate”.
Al-Sharief, who was born in 1979 and is a divorcee with a four-year-old son, is believed to be the first Saudi woman to obtain the ISO 27701 certification from the United States as an information technology auditor. She currently works in that capacity as a supervisor at Aramco.
With a valid US driving license, Al-Sharief is said to be backed in her support for women driving by her father and brother.
Saudi Gazette article about Manal al-Sharief

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Manal al-Sharif arrested again, then released into her father's care

The Arab News has a detailed report of Manal al-Sharif's second detention early Sunday morning. Eventually her father arrived and got her released.

Here is a link to their detailed story.

Manal al-Sharif detained by police while driving in al-Khobar

Below are links to two stories about the brief detention of Saudi woman driver, Manal al-Sharif. She was driving in the Eastern Province city of al-Khobar and was detained on Saturday, May 21, 2011 by the CVPVP - The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. She was allowed to go home after signing a statement that she would not drive again. The CNN story adds that authorities also tried to detain her on Sunday.

Both the Associated Press and CNN have picked up on the story. Below are links to them both.

CNN story about Manal al-Sharif's detained

Things are happening quickly now. A new facebook page in support of Manal has been set up and there are many videos and postings. It's all in Arabic, but if you can read it, here is the link to her page. The title of the 'community' page is "We are all Manal al-Sharif"

Facebook Page: We are all Manal al-Sharif

And below is a video that Manal al-Sharif made that is a call to action. It's in Arabic, but the jist of it is...she is explaining the facebook movement urging women to drive. She's reiterating that are not breaking the law, not trying to cause trouble, just trying to claim their rights. She also says if you are a Saudi woman with a valid driver's license of some kind, then consider driving.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

More on Najla al-Hariri, CNN and BBC Coverage on Women Driving

Below is a link to a CNN story in English from May 17, 2011 about women driving in Saudi Arabia. Several great interviews, wonderful footage. Best quote - "Rain always starts with a single raindrop."

I heard from a friend that BBC Radio did a story with a female journalist driving around with a Saudi woman at the wheel in Jeddah. If anyone finds the link to that story, please post it as a comment.

Also today, in the link below, is a story from the BBC about Najla al-Hariri, with her photo, the Jeddah mom who is out driving.

Saudi woman seeks to put women in driving seat

Monday, May 16, 2011

Woman driver surprised by society's reaction

Follow up to the story about Najla al-Hariri, the Jeddah mom who drove in the city for days without being stopped. This story is from the Arab News, and she gives them some wonderful quotes. Best of all, she got a lot of 'thumbs-up' when driving around, and felt that hardly anyone noticed her!

Link to the story above.

Saudi woman defies driving ban

5/16/2011 - AFP reports that a Jeddah housewife and mother, Najla al-Hariri, a woman in her mid-30's, drove around Jeddah for four days without being arrested.  Below is the whole story pasted in. As far as I know, this is the first time in recent history that a Saudi woman has come forth publicly and talked about her driving, though Saudi women have admitted to driving dressed as men.  

  Photo caption: 
A Saudi man takes a picture of two women sitting in a car at an auto show in Jeddah in 2010 (AFP/File, Amer Hilabi)

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia — A Saudi mother said Sunday she defied a ban on women drivers in the ultra-conservative kingdom by getting behind the wheel for four days without being stopped.

Najla al-Hariri, a housewife in her mid-30s, said she drove non-stop for four days in the streets of the Red Sea city of Jeddah "to defend her belief that Saudi women should be allowed to drive."

"I don't fear being arrested because I am setting an example that my daughter and her friends are proud of," Hariri told AFP, adding she was offering driving lessons for women.

Hariri said she was an experienced motorist as she had driven for five years in Egypt and another five years in Lebanon, while she could not drive in her own country.

In addition to being banned from driving, Saudi women cannot travel without authorisation from their male guardians, and are also not allowed to vote in the municipal elections, the only public polls in the absolute monarchy.

When in public, they are obliged to cover from head to toe.

Hariri ridiculed the social belief that Saudi women are treated "like queens" as they are driven around by their male relatives or drivers, saying "this is a big lie."

"We are always under their mercy to give us a lift," she said.

Meanwhile, a group of Saudi women have launched a Internet-based campaign calling for a nationwide protest drive on June 17 in a bid to get rid of the ban once and for all.
"On Friday June 17th, we women in Saudi will start driving our cars by ourselves," says the Women2Drive page on Twitter.

The page for the event on Facebook is entitled "I will drive starting June 17" and has 1,998 supporters.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

English tv news report on the 1990 Saudi women's driving demonstration

Just came across a Youtube clip of an English news story from the 1990 demonstration in Riyadh in which many Saudi women, with support of their families, took the wheels and started driving. They were arrested, and many were fired from their jobs and were ostracized by society. Years later, I'm told that the government made restitution to all of them. As we get closer to the planned June 17, 2011 driving demonstration, it is a good time to think back on the brave women who tried before.

Here is the link to the video:

Friday, May 13, 2011

Editorial: A driving force

On 5/13/2011, the Arab News published an editorial about the issue of Saudi taxi drivers. Apparently many Saudi women won't get into a taxi if it's driven by a Saudi, they prefer foreign taxi drivers. Whether it's true or not, the Saudi drivers have a reputation for making advances and exhibiting other improper behavior when Saudi women get in their cars.  The writer notes that this problem would be solved if women could drive in Saudi Arabia, pointing out that in conservative Muslim countries like Qatar and Kuwait, women drive and society has not collapsed (a common argument against women driving in Saudi Arabia). To read the article, click on the title of this posting.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Major news story on Saudi women's plan to drive on 6-17

Donna Abu-Nasr wrote a story that was picked up by Bloomberg News about the Saudi women who are planning to drive on June 17th. Click on the title above to read the full story.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

What do women really want? - Arab News

Rima al-Mukhtari of the Arab News reports on a survey conducted by the women's magazine, al-Sayidaty ("My Lady") that queried what women around the Arab world really want. The magazine is about to come out with a story that reveals many women's views. More than 1,000 women responded to the e-mail survey. The story's findings are summarized in Ms. al-Mukhtari's piece, which you can read by clicking on the title of this post, but there is a bit about women driving - quoted below.

More than one thousand Arabian young women have contributed to the magazine’s survey, giving transparent details to their stories. The survey shows that most Saudis are looking for freedom and the ability to drive a car, among other things. Emirati women claim that old traditions are tying them down, not giving them enough space to give their opinion as women.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Saudi women plan to drive on June 17th, 2011

A facebook-based women's 'drive-in' is being planned in Saudi Arabia for June 17, 2011. It's called "I will drive starting June 17th". Don't have any other information except the facebook page. Meanwhile, you can 'attend' from this facebook link