Saturday, June 25, 2011

Jeddah woman driver accelerates campaign

 Alsharifa Lana Engawi drives around the Al-Shatea roundabout in Jeddah on Friday. (AN Photo)

Rima al-Mukhtar of the Arab News reports on June 24, 2011, that women in the Kingdom continue to drive, making videos of themselves, then tweeting about it on-line. In Jeddah, the police have not been arresting women, but a woman in al-Khobar was arrested. There is no harassment from people on the street, confirming that society is accepting their efforts. However an Islamic ‘Dawa’ (“Call”) group issued a statement that it is against Islamic law. The tactic the women are advising now is that the women get international driver’s licenses, which legally are accepted in the Kingdom.  A link to the story here, full text below.

Jeddah woman driver accelerates campaign
JEDDAH: The Women2Drive campaign continued down a rocky road with some sustaining the campaign a week after it was launched with sporadic efforts on Friday. Meanwhile a dawa (Islamic propagation) group, in Riyadh made clear its belief that women driving cars is against Islamic principles.

On Friday, stay-at-home mom Alsharifa Lana Engawi took to the Jeddah streets in a Range Rover to visit her father without any issues. But Layla Aldabbagh in Alkhobar posted on Twitter that police stopped her when she was driving with her male guardian: her father.

For the past week Saudi women have been posting videos and pictures themselves driving on social media sites.

Twitter and Facebook was alight with discussion -- mostly in Arabic -- among Saudi women over the past couple of days regarding how to obtain international drivers' licenses. Women2Drive organizers have recommended that only women with licenses that are recognized in Saudi Arabia engage in driving. Saudi Arabia does not issue driving licenses to women leaving only the international license, which can be obtained through travel agencies, as the legal option. However there have been reports that travel agencies have stopped taking international driving license applications.

Women2Drive organizers has also been careful to say this is a call for individual women to decide to drive rather than an act of mass protest. The group also advises women to be dressed accordingly so as to not give any other precedent for punitive action.

Arab News rode with Engawi, the stay at home mom, as she drove around her neighborhood and passed by her father’s house in Shatea district on Friday at around 5:30 p.m.

“I’m just doing this to support women in this issue," she told Arab News as she drive down the  Conriche within eyesight of families strolling by the Red Sea on a calm Friday afternoon. "They need our help and this campaign is all about standing together to earn our right to drive. When I drive I feel that I’m free and in control of my life. Sometimes I feel like I have to get things done all by myself and this is what I’m aiming for.”

Engawi lived abroad for 12 years: “I have driven there, and I was free to start my engine when I needed to. When I came here I felt that I was tied up with a driver who is not always free when I need him.”

On the street, drivers didn’t bother to look at the women behind the wheel. The ride went smoothly with no harassment.

“People don’t care who is driving," she said. "And Saudi society is supportive of this cause. I think only a few people are against this, not the whole society. I believe the Saudi street and traffic environment is ready for women to drive."

Aldabbagh wrote on her Twitter feed: “Police want me to go down to the station and pledge not to drive again. They're taking me to police station to make me take this pledge while also giving me a ticket for driving without a license.”

Twitter was also abuzz on Friday with Saudi women discussing the kind of cars they would be buying soon when the permission for women to drive is given.

“Who cares what car? It's the right to drive is what matters, any car would do,” wrote Layla Ahmed from Riyadh. “All I care about is that the car has a good air conditioning.”
Meanwhile, the Altawouni office for Islamic propagation in Riyadh's Rawdah district has been distributing flyers and posters at mosques all over the capital city claiming that it is taboo in Islam for women to drive. The statement cited seven reasons why women should be forbidden from driving.

“Those regulations are sourced from senior religious scholars in Saudi Arabia," said the spokesperson of Altawouni. "We have more than one person working in our research office. The researchers read Sunnah books and books by senior religious scholars to give clear rulings on the issue and then we distribute the rulings in mosques for everyone’s benefit.”


  1. Good Afternoon.

    My name is Eliseu Barreira and I'm reporter of international affairs for a Brazilian weekly newsmagazine named ÉPOCA (, which runs approximately 500,000 copies per issue and it's one of the best-selling publications in my country. I am writing a special article about Saudi Women. I would like to interview a Saudi Woman who drives. Could you help me?

    Thank you very much.

    Eliseu Barreira Junior

  2. Hello Eliseu,

    Thank you for reading our blog - to find someone I suggest going into the facebook pages related to Saudi women driving. Check on the words 'Manal al-Sharief' or Saudi women driving. That's the best way, and good luck!
    (I'm just a blogger - an American interested in the story).