Saudi Women Arrested for Defying Driving Ban - Lama Hasan, ABC News
June 29, 2011
Five Saudi women who dared to break the driving ban by getting behind the wheel were arrested for a few hours and then released by the Kingdom's muttawas, or religious police, in the Red Sea coast city of Jeddah.
To gain their release, the women, along with their legal male guardians, had to sign a pledge declaring they would not drive again.
In what is being described as "dramatic" night time raids, police detained one of the women as she was driving in the city. She was reportedly surrounded by four police cars and taken into custody.
According to a conservative Saudi news website, her car was also confiscated. The other four were first accused of defying the ban and then arrested.
Galvanized by the recent revolutions in the Arab world, the organization Saudi Women for Driving, a coalition of leading Saudi women's rights activists, released a statement that read,
"The Saudi police decided to wait a few weeks before cracking down in the hope that international attention on the ban on women driving would subside."
The law in the Kingdom does not actually prohibit women from driving but there are fatwas, or religious edicts, which follow Wahabism, a strict form of Islam that follows the Koran literally and has been in place for centuries. It is the muttawas who police the streets and enforce those edicts in the country.
It is the first time the muttawas cracked down on women drivers since women's rights campaigner and single mother Manal Al Sharif was arrested for driving in May this year and remained behind bars for nice days. Al Sharif is one of five organizers who set up the facebook group "Women2Drive" page, launched a nationwide campaign calling on all women across the country to drive on June 17. Dozens of women across the country hit the streets, some documenting their audacious act and posting their videos on YouTube.
The Saudi women have been tirelessly trying to reverse these laws to enable women to drive so that they can have more freedom and no longer have to rely on their male guardians to commute.
Eman Al Nafjan, a Saudi women's rights blogger and college teacher, is one of them. She spoke of her frustration, telling ABC News, "Do you know how difficult it is for me? I am 32 years old, a mother of three, teaching college students, and I am trusted to teach but not trusted behind the wheel just because I don't have the right genitals?''
Al Nafjan is working on getting the voices of other women heard and finding a platform for their organization (http://www.change.org). She told ABC News that the ''local media deny we exist.''
Will these recent arrests deter women from driving and force them to drop their quest?
Not according to the Saudi Women for Driving campaign, who have defiantly said the women will continue their efforts to pave the way for female drivers and lifting the ban in the Kingdom: "If Saudi police think arresting women drivers is going to stop what has already become the largest women's rights movement in Saudi history, they are sorely mistaken. On the contrary, these arrests will encourage more women to get behind the wheel in direct defiance of this ridiculous abuse of our most basic human rights."