Friday, September 30, 2011

Arab News Editorial: The driving issue

The Arab News, Saudi Arabia's largest English language daily, editorializes. Pasted below, the link to the story is here.

Editorial: The driving issue

Status of women provokes a great deal of comment within Saudi Arabia itself

There is no point trying to pretend that Saudi Arabia does not come in for a considerable amount of criticism from other parts of the world over the status of women in Saudi society — the issue of women not being allowed to drive, of women not being allowed a passport or leave the country without the permission of a male member of their family, of businesswomen having to have a male manager, of the restrictions on women lawyers. There are many more issues.

Much of that criticism ignores the fact that Saudi Arabia is, of its own choice, a very conservative society. It ignores too the fact that it is only relatively recently in Western countries that women have won the rights they now have. Women in the US gained the right to vote only in 1920, in UK it was in 1928, in France in 1944; in Switzerland, which claims to be one of the oldest democracies on earth, as recently as 1971. Compared to them Saudi Arabia is a young country.

The criticism also ignores the reality that the status of women provokes a great deal of comment and debate within Saudi Arabia itself. It is the hot issue.

Sunday’s historic announcement from Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah — a consistent promoter of women’s rights — that women will in future be allowed to vote and stand for municipal councils and be appointed to the Shoura Council, therefore, drew the attention of the world. It has been welcomed as a sign of the Kingdom’s commitment to reform and progress. It was unfortunate then that almost immediately afterward the next Saudi story the international media focused on was that of Shayma Jastaniah, the Saudi woman sentenced to 10 lashes for driving in Jeddah. It inevitably made comparisons between the decision on women voting and the sentence, claiming that the latter undermined the importance of the former and that there were contradictions on the position of women in the Kingdom.

Saudis too have said as much. It is now rumored that the Shayma has been reprieved. If true, it would be welcome news and would go some considerable way to undo the perception that Saudi Arabia is sending out mixed messages on the status of woman. The issue of women driving is not going to go away. It is not a question of if it will happen. It is a question of when. We would hope as soon as possible. But there are those who have different views — and they are not all men. It is an issue that has to be debated but that debate has to be carried out in a calm and dignified atmosphere. Clearly, reports of women being sentenced to be lashed for driving do not contribute to a calm atmosphere.

However, while the driving issue is not going to go away, it would be wrong to imagine that now that women are to have the vote, it is the top women’s issue. It has great symbolic significance but there are many other goals to achieve, some of them mentioned above. As a conservative society, Saudi Arabia moves slowly — but it moves. And, as has been seen time and again, the king is a champion of modernization and reform. That is reason for great confidence.

BBC News - Viewpoint: Saudi women should not drive

Op-ed piece from the BBC. Pasted below, link to story is here.

Viewpoint: Saudi women should not drive

Saudi women get in the back seat of a car
Driving remains a banned activity for Saudi women, who will soon be allowed to vote
Saudi leader King Abdullah overturned a court decision this week that sentenced a woman to 10 lashes for driving a car in violation of the ban on female drivers in the kingdom. Over recent months scores of women have driven around major Saudi cities in a highly unusual show of civil disobedience.
The vast majority of women do not drive in the kingdom and there remains much opposition to female drivers. A 25-year-old Saudi man, Nawwaf, told BBC Radio 4's World at One programme why he does not want to see women driving in Saudi Arabia.

"I think women driving is the key to a lot of things. In Western countries, 100 years ago women's clothes were different but now you can see they are a little bit naked.

"If you start now to let women drive, let them go wherever they want, let them do whatever they want, we will be in the same position some day. Then Saudi Arabia will be like New York.

"It's not good for some girl to show her body, wear very short skirts. This is not about Saudi Arabia, it's about Islam. We've got a generation who were raised watching Gossip Girls and other [similar] series. They only want to be like that, dress like that, drive like that. It's not about need.

"Now it's driving [women want]. After five years it will be taking off the abaya [all-covering veil and gown], after 10 years they will ask to be allowed to wear short skirts. This is how it's going, that is how I feel.

"I did agree with the sentence [of 10 lashes]. There are hundreds and thousands of guys and they get the same or more if they do bad things, so I'm OK with it. If I am in the mall and I bother some girl, I will get more than [10 lashes] from the court.

"It is a good thing that women will be allowed to vote. Because they will vote for someone to improve healthcare, improve education, improve jobs.

"It's not only about driving. Healthcare is important, education is important, jobs are important. But driving is nothing.

"They [the female driving campaigners] want the people outside Saudi Arabia to think the fight is between the people and the religious people. It's not. I'm not a religious person but I am against it.

"I believe it will hurt my community. I understand the US traditions and I respect them so other people, outsiders, need to understand our traditions and respect them."

A Driving Issue that Just Won't Go Away, Until it Does

Interesting blog posting by Patrick S. Ryan for the Saudi-US Relations Information Service, analyzing the women driving issue. A link to the entry is here and the beginning of the full text is pasted in below. It is too long an entry to include here in its entirety.

On Sunday King Abdullah opened the new Majlis As Shura, or Consultative Council, session in Riyadh with a speech heard around the world. Giving Saudi women the right to participate in Municipal Council elections as of 2015 and to be eligible for service in the Majlis stirred both applause and backhanded criticism. The reform minded King’s move was hailed as a positive development by some and derided as falling too short by others. “Thanks for shaking things up by bringing about women’s voting rights, but how do you expect them to get to the polls if they can’t drive,” so it goes. Damned if you do and damned if you do.

Emblematic of that reaction was a political cartoon in this morning’s American Bedu blog showing two women in abayas under a notation “Saudi Arabia: 2015.” The first one asks, “Did you vote..?” The answer, “No… my husband wouldn’t drive me.”

The question of women driving is never far from the top of the list of issues that stand in the way of progress for women in the Kingdom on many people’s minds, especially among those outside the Kingdom looking in. It was important enough to be among the questions asked in 2005 of King Abdullah in his first television interview after assuming the throne — his questioner was ABC News correspondent Barbara Walters — as reported on in October 2005.

You can access the entire blog entry here


Thursday, September 29, 2011

King Abdallah Pardons Lashing Sentence for Shaima

King Abdallah pardoned the woman driver who was recently sentenced to ten lashes for driving illegally. Her name is Shaima Ghassaniyah, but also appears with the last name Jastaina as well as Jastania. So far, I haven't seen an official confirmation of this ruling, and it hasn't shown up in the Arab News yet, which is interesting. I'm posting it as news ----- since it's all over the wires.  (Note: in our post of March 15, 2011 (Prince Khaled is For Women Driving), a woman named Shaima Jastania attended the 2011 Jeddah Economic Forum and asked the Governor of the Western (Mecca) Province, Prince Khalid bin Faisal bin Abdul Aziz, whether he agreed with the driving ban. I assume she is the same woman.

The text of the story from the Guardian is below, and a link to the story is here.

Saudi woman driver saved from lashing by King Abdullah

A Saudi woman sentenced to be lashed 10 times for defying the country's ban on female drivers has had her punishment overturned by the king.

The woman, named as Shaima Jastaina and believed to be in her 30s, was found guilty of driving without permission in Jeddah in July. Her case was the first in which a legal punishment was handed down for a violation of the ban in the ultraconservative Muslim nation.

Although there has been no official confirmation of the ruling, Princess Amira al-Taweel, wife of the Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, tweeted: "Thank God, the lashing of [Shaima] is cancelled. Thanks to our beloved king. I am sure all Saudi women will be so happy, I know I am."

She later added that she and her husband had spoken to Shaima, who told them: "The king's orders washed the fears I lived with after this unjust sentence."

Jastaina was sentenced on Monday — a day after King Abdullah promised to protect women's rights and said women would be allowed to participate in municipal elections in 2015. He also promised to appoint women to the all-male Shura council advisory body.

The moves underline the challenge facing Abdullah, known as a reformer, as he pushes gently for change while trying not to antagonise the powerful clergy and a conservative segment of the population.

Although there are no written laws that restrict women from driving, the prohibition is rooted in conservative traditions and religious views that hold that giving freedom of movement to women would make them vulnerable to sins.

Police usually stop female drivers, question them and let them go after they sign a pledge not to drive again. But dozens of women have continued to take to the roads since June in a campaign to break the taboo.

Saudi Arabia
is the only country in the world that bans women — both Saudi and foreign — from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300-$400 (£190-£255) a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Mother killed in a car accident - with her daughter at the wheel

Emirates 24/7 reports today that an elderly Saudi woman was killed in a car accident, noting that her daughter was at the wheel illegally. The woman driving was taking her mother to the hospital for medical treatment in Aflaj (a rural area 200 miles south of the capital city Riyadh) when one of the tires blew. Though women driving in Saudi cities is uncommon, women are known to drive in rural areas.

The text of the story is below, and the link to it on-line is here.

Mum killed in car driven by daughter in Saudi - September 28, 2011

An old Saudi woman was killed in a road accident involving a car driven by her daughter in defiance of a long-standing ban on driving by women in the conservative Muslim Gulf Kingdom, press reports said on Wednesday.

The girl was driving her sick mother for treatment at a hospital in the central town of Aflaj when the car overturned on the road because of a tyre blast.

“The mother was killed in the accident, her daughter, in her 20s, was injured and taken to hospital,” Sharq daily said.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Saudi women driving on Twitter

If you are active on Twitter, you can check out the lively discussion on the case of Shaima Ghassaniyah being sentenced to ten lashes for driving in Saudi Arabia. The 'Twitterverse' is just hopping with comments today.

Check out: the discussion on:


This sentence seems particularly embarrassing given the fact that the King wants to stop the marginalization of women in Saudi society. He's just given them the right to vote in municipal elections and will be appointing women to his Consultative Council, known as the Shoura.

The King has been known to step in and commute capricious sentences, and I believe he will do so in this case. This is a good example of the independence of the Saudi judiciary, which can be a good thing in theory, but often it's not.

Shoura council reconsidering women driving issue

The Saudi Gazette reports that the Saudi consultative council, known as the Shoura, appointed by the King, is reconsidering the women driving issue. A link to the story is here and the text is below. This subject has come to the fore, in response to the growing movement of Saudi men and women who are asking for women's right to drive, as well as the questions that have followed the King's recent announcement about women's right to vote and women's imminent appointment as full members of the Shoura.

Shoura reconsidering women driving issue

Al-Khobar — In view of the popular campaign for allowing women to drive in the Kingdom, the Shoura Council is thoroughly reconsidering the issue, said Dr. Misha’l Mamdooh Al-Ali, Chairman of the Council’s Human Rights Committee.

Allowing women to drive does not conflict with Islamic law, he said, adding that the majority of people oppose women driving based on tradition and customs. “It has nothing to do with religion,” Al-Ali was quoted by Al-Hayat Arabic daily as saying.

Many Saudi women say their driving does not contradict the Shariah and there is no religious reason that prevents them from driving, he added. He said these women have appointed a lawyer to follow up the issue at the Shoura Council.

“The human rights committee is waiting for the Chairman of the Shoura Council to study the case and refer it back to the committee,” he said.

“The Shoura Council will study any issue put on the table as long as it is in the interest of citizens and residents,” he said. The Shoura Council will allow the lawyer and his female clients to attend the session when the issue is discussed, he said.

Dr. Al-Ali hoped that Sheikh Abdul Aziz Aal Al-Sheikh, the Grand Mufti of the Kingdom, and other senior Ulema (scholars) would give their opinion on the issue. “We will comply with what they say because they know better and know what is best for us.”

The Shoura Council members are studying the issue thoroughly from different social, economic and security aspects, he said.

One important goal that his committee seeks to achieve is to ensure that there are female police so that female drivers are treated with respect, he explained.

Woman to get ten lashes for driving

The AP reports via USA Today here, that Saudi woman Shaima Ghassaniyyah, caught driving illegally in Saudi Arabia, is to receive ten lashes for driving. The link to the story is here and the text appears below.

Saudi woman sentenced to 10 lashes for defying ban on female drivers

by Douglas Stanglin (September 27, 2011)

A Saudi court has sentenced a Saudi woman with 10 lashes for defying the kingdom's ban on women driving, Saudi actvists tell the Associated Press.

Activist Samar Badawi says Shaima Ghassaniya was found guilty of driving without the government's permission in Jeddah in July. No laws prohibit women from driving, but conservative religious edicts have banned it.

Today's verdict is the first of its kind in Saudi Arabia. Other women were detained for several days, but had not been sentenced by a court, the AP reports.

The BBC reports that Women2drive, which campaigns for women to be allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, says she has already appealed the conviction.

The BBC says two other women are due to appear in court later this year on similar charges.
Najalaa Harriri, who is also facing court for driving, tells the AP that she needed to drive to take better care of her children.

This weekend, Saudi King Abdullah announced, for the first time, that women have the right to vote and run in the country's 2015 local elections.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Saudi Authorities to try Najla Hariri for Driving

The Associated Press is reporting today (9/26/2011) that authorities in Jeddah are going to bring housewife and mother Najla Hariri to trial for driving illegally. This is one day after King Abdallah announced that women would have the right to vote in the next municipal elections four years from now, and that he would begin appointing women to sit on his Consultative Council next year.

The text of the story is below, and a link to the piece on ABC News' website is here
They managed to mangle Ms. Hariri's name, both first and last.

Stay tuned for more updates.

From AP: Saudi Authorities to Try Woman for Driving

A Saudi lawyer and rights advocates say authorities will bring a Saudi activist to trial for defying the kingdom's female driving ban.

The attorney, Waleed Aboul Khair, says Najalaa Harrir was summoned for questioning by the prosecutor general in the port city of Jeddah on Sunday, the same day that Saudi King Abdullah introduced reforms giving women the right to vote and run in local elections four years from now.
Harrir is one of dozens of Saudi female activists behind a campaign called "My Right, My Dignity" that is aimed at ending discrimination against women, including the driving ban, in the ultraconservative Islamic country.

Harrir recently appeared in a TV show while driving her car in Jeddah.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Women will join King's Shura Council and gain right to vote

King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia made history yet again by announcing that women will be allowed to vote and run for office in the Kingdom's municipal elections...and that they will be appointed as full members to the Kingdom's Consultative Shura Council. Though the issue of women driving isn't dealt with now, I believe we must look at this historic step with the 'glass is half full' attitude. Now that women will be on the Shura Council they will be able to discuss the women driving issue and bring forth other major women's rights issues such as the 'guardianship' law question.

The media is reporting this all over - I'm including the LA Times story - it seems the most nuanced and quotes Lubna Hussain. The story is pasted in below and a link to it is  here

Reforms will allow women to vote but not drive - Jeffrey Fleishman

REPORTING FROM CAIRO -- King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia surprised his ultraconservative nation Sunday by announcing bold reforms that for the first time give women the right to vote, run for local office and serve on the Shura Council, the king’s advisory board.

The measures by an aging monarch who has battled Islamic hard-liners for years will marginally improve the standing of women in a country that still forbids them from driving or leaving the house without their faces covered. The moves appear likely to enrage religious conservatives while serving to advance at least a veneer of change in one of the world’s most repressive states.

“Because we refuse to marginalize women in society in all roles that comply with sharia [Islamic law], we have decided ... to involve women in the Shura Council as members, starting from the next term,” the king said in a five-minute speech to his advisors.

He added: “Women will be able to run as candidates” in the 2015 municipal election “and will even have a right to vote.”

The announcement suggests that the ailing 87-year-old king seeks a legacy as a reformer, despite making only modest inroads on human rights. Abdullah built the country’s first coeducational university and has granted 120,000 scholarships to Saudi students, many of them women, to study outside the country. Each was opposed by clerics and religious ultraconservatives in the royal family. Allowing women to vote is “hugely significant,” said Lubna Hussain, a Saudi writer. “The king is implementing the reform promises he made when he became leader. It shows he is not willing to pander to religious fundamentalists ... who are quite weakened and don’t seem to have the voice they used to.”

The new rights for women come as Saudi Arabia has bristled at demands for political freedoms that have spirited rebellions across the Arab world and toppled such longtime allies of the king as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. When rumblings of revolt echoed in Saudi Arabia, the government, whose security forces are omnipresent, promised $130 billion in salary raises and spending for social and religious programs.

Such largesse and attempts at modernization have kept Abdullah popular even while challenges to the royal family have been quickly crushed. Saudi dissidents and human rights groups have condemned the government for crackdowns that have occasionally damaged the king’s image and led to criticism that his family’s reliance on religious conservatives to stay in power makes him too cautious a reformer.

The king is the counterbalance to influential anti-reformist forces, including Prince Nayef ibn Abdulaziz, the Saudi interior minister, who many believe may succeed Abdullah. Nayef is sympathetic to fundamentalist Wahhabi clerics who uphold the segregation of sexes and have resisted the monarch’s attempts at modest reforms to ease religion's grip on schools, courts and other institutions.

Yet discriminatory laws, such as preventing women from driving, have become an international embarrassment for the kingdom, a key U.S. ally that relies on oil wealth to expand its diplomatic stature. A number of women were arrested over the summer for defying the driving ban. Analysts predicted that by allowing women to vote the king has opened the possibility for wider rights debates.

But others said the latest reforms were diversions that did little to change the plight of women in a country where they can be beheaded for adultery and cannot travel abroad without the permission of a male guardian.

“It’s a mixed feeling. On one hand he opens the door for her and on the other hand she is still banned from driving,” said Mohammad Fahd Qahtani, a college professor and human rights advocate. “It doesn’t save her from horrible treatment by government agencies and the courts. It’s a symbolic gesture but it is in no way enough to improve the lives of women.”

He added: “These rights to vote are still, if you see how it’s worded, are contingent on Islamic jurisprudence. So we'll have to see in coming years what happens. The devil could be in the details. But maybe it’ll get some international praise for the regime.”

Sunday’s announcements “represent an important step forward in expanding the rights of women in Saudi Arabia, and we support King Abdullah and the people of Saudi Arabia as they undertake these and other reforms,” said Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council.

The change will not alter the Saudi power structure. Municipal councils have little authority and only half their members are elected. The Shura Council, a body akin to a parliament but with no legislative power, advises the king on economic, social and international affairs.

But liberals and activists believe that even a little nudge forward in the kingdom is significant.

“It’s almost like a watershed,” said Hussain, who has written eloquently over the years on women’s rights. “You’ll now have women in [the Shura Council] taking up women’s causes. Before it was men talking for us. It’s quite revolutionary and it will open up a Pandora’s box.”

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hiding behind wheel, another Riyadh woman hits the road

Excellent article in the 9/13/2011 Arab News by Walaa Hawari about a woman and her mother who admit to driving in Riyadh as an economic necessity. A link to the story is here and the text is below. 

Hiding behind wheel, another Riyadh woman hits the road

RIYADH: Hiding under a hooded shirt, another Saudi woman drove on King Fahd Road in Riyadh.
The woman, identified as Nora, was accompanied by her mother, who had expressed her despair of using taxis to move around in the city. Taking taxis exhausted her, the mother complained, adding that it exposed her to a number of problems, as she had no man in the house.
“My only daughter learned to drive when we traveled and is in possession of a driving license, so I thought it more convenient to have her drive me around to finish my chores,” said the mother.
She added that recruiting a private driver was very expensive, and two of her previous drivers had run away, leaving her helpless.
The daughter, on the other hand, said she preferred to wear a hooded sweatshirt to hide her identity, as she was not sure about the law and how she would be treated if caught. “I also tried to keep a low profile, so men would not hassle me, given that I am not protected by the law. Things might turn against me if there was a clash,” said Nora.
Nora and her mother admitted that they had been driving since morning carrying out some chores all the way from Takhassosi Street, west of Riyadh, to Al-Woroud area, north of Riyadh, with no trouble at all. They were held in the traffic on King Fahd Road, where some of the drivers had spotted Nora, but left her alone.
Nora's mother said that once the government finally approved women driving, and bylaws were set to protect her daughter and other female drivers, her and other women’s problems would be reduced.
“I am retired and my salary is hardly enough for my expenses. I cannot afford a driver, and even if I could, I have no place for a strange man in my house,” said Nora's mother, confirming that she knew many other women in the same situation.
Yet Nora's mother expressed more despair about the present situation, as it remains unclear if driving is approved or not and whether she can come out openly with her daughter into the streets or has to keep dodging bullets.
Late last month Jeddah police briefly detained Najla Hariri, a social activist who was part of an Internet campaign titled “Women2Drive,” for driving her daughter to her workplace.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Driven to despair

Excellent essay by Saudi writer Sameera Aziz in the 9/13/2011 Saudi Gazette about the lack of progress in the women's driving issue.  The link to the story is here  and the text of it is below. Bravo, Sameera.

Driven to despair - Sameera Aziz
In his reply to a pointed question from Barbara Walters of ABC News asking him whether he would support allowing women to drive, King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, was forthright. “I believe strongly in the rights of women ... my mother is a woman, my sister is a woman, my daughter is a woman, my wife is a woman,” he said. “I believe the day will come when women drive. In fact, if you look at the areas in Saudi Arabia, the deserts and in the rural areas, you will find that women do drive. The issue will require patience. In time, I believe it will be possible.”
Prodded further about the exact time when women could get behind the wheel, King Abdullah added: “Our people are just now beginning to open up to the world, and I believe that, with the passing of days in the future, everything is possible.”
That interview took place more than five years ago but the question still remains about when women could be allowed to drive.
And, to be honest, this is a question I have never tired of raising at any forum that upholds women’s rights. In fact, at about the same time that Walters was raising this issue with King Abdullah, I was putting this question before the Jeddah Economic Forum.
It is a question that is very close to my heart and that, I believe, of every woman in the Kingdom. However, I was in for a rude shock. I had barely finished my question at the elite gathering, when one of the key speakers cut me short: “This is the dilemma of our society; young Saudi women of today, like you, just think of seeking permission to drive in the Kingdom, rather than focusing on and nurturing their marital life,” he had scoffed and continued deploringly. “Think of seeking a good groom for yourself rather than wasting your time on such non-issues.”
According to him, we should be concentrating on more fruitful issues instead: like finding ways to reduce the increasing number of divorces in our society! I will refrain from naming the speaker, who is elderly and respectable, but his unexpectedly harsh and offensive reply took me completely by surprise. I had promptly gathered myself and presented my case. “Sir, I was speaking on the issue of women driving in general,” I explained. “However, if you are interested in talking about me personally, for your kind information, I am already married and my husband believes I am a very caring homemaker. I know how to nurture a good marital life. Personally, I would probably prefer to pamper myself by being chauffeur driven but, equally, those women who want to drive should be allowed to drive. And I was speaking on behalf of all those Saudi and expat women, who don’t want to depend on drivers.”
Saying this I walked out of the hall. I can only guess what his response would have been because I left behind a silence that raised more questions than he could answer.
While I was sitting in the lobby for the next session, however, I found several supporters. Many young girls came out and voiced their disgust.
“We are fed up. They don’t consider it (driving) an issue at all. I can’t afford a driver but I am forced to pay him,” said one. “On one hand, we talk about non-Mahrams (strangers) but, on the other, our menfolk think nothing of allowing us to go around town accompanied by these drivers who are also non-Mahrams,” added another. “How long are we going to depend on our drivers to take us where we want?” questioned yet another.
I could go on but you probably get the drift. Clearly, women were frustrated at being put down at every forum and a key issue like this was simply put on the backburner.
However, after five years of harsh and haunting debate, I believe things are changing. People are now open to the idea of at least discussing the issue of women driving.
There was much confusion over what the law says about women driving when Manal was arrested.
The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice washed its hands off Manal’s case saying it did not fall under its jurisdiction because she had apparently committed a violation of the law.
The police, on the other hand, claimed it had nothing to do with this as Manal had not committed any security violation. It was a traffic violation, it said, which was under the traffic department.
Though it was indeed the traffic department that finally leveled the charges, it was evident that they were confused about the issue. And the reason for that was simple: they had never handled a woman violator before! There was some certainty provided this past week when Prince Ahmad Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, Deputy Interior Minister, said that the ban in the country was still in place, according to the Ministry of Interior website. “… a statement has been issued in 1411H, which banned women driving cars in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Ministry of Interior still implements this regulation but we could not say that this is correct or incorrect because it is not our work; we are responsible for implementing the regulations.”

Whatever the points of view, confusion should be cleared and the issue needs to be addressed quickly. After all, women comprise more than half of the Kingdom’s student body. While the transition from education to employment is already hard for Saudi women, it becomes even harder for them to find the resources to pursue a successful career. And creating feasible transportation is a key factor here.
Being dependent on others for something as basic as getting from one place to another can be frustrating. And more so when one has to depend on a complete stranger to fulfill this need. There is little doubt that most women would feel safer behind the wheel of their own car rather than meet the roving eye of her limousine driver or the lecherous taxi driver who makes unnecessary conversation and drops broad hints.
Men need to understand that women in the Kingdom are simply asking for their right. They are not demanding unnecessary freedom by seeking permission to drive.
And those who are depriving them of this need to be cautioned. As uprisings are sweeping the Arab world, the climate is ripe for protests. Take Najla Hariri, a Saudi housewife in her mid-thirties, for instance. Najla apparently took to the road in a direct challenge to the ban on female drivers. Najla claimed to have drawn inspiration from the Mideast protests.
Now, hundreds of activists have already set up Facebook groups and campaigns calling for Manal’s release and an end to the driving ban. A Facebook page titled “We are all Manal Al-Sharief: a call for solidarity with Saudi women’s rights,” has been growing in popularity.
Contrary to that, the deplorable ‘Iqal campaign’ has been also launched on Facebook calling for men to beat Saudi women who drive their cars in protest. The renowned novelist Abdo Khal, writing in Okaz, condemned the ban on women driving, and said he did not know “whether to laugh or cry” over the proposed Iqal campaign.
Whatever be the case, the fact remains that Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world in which women are not allowed to drive. Thus, every time the issue is raised in the global arena, it will give the Western media another chance to take potshots at women’s lack of independence in the Kingdom.
If Saudi men continue to oppose women driving, there seems little doubt that the authorities have to brace themselves for more Najlas and Manals on the streets.
— Sameera Aziz is International Editor at
The Saudi Gazette __

Facebook poll on Saudi women driving (in Arabic)

Here is a link to a facebook poll in Arabic about whether you support Saudi women driving. If you agree, fill in the top button, which means, 'yes.'

Link is here  As of this moment, believe it or not, the 'no's' are ahead - it's about 10,000 against women driving, just shy of 8,000 for women driving. So vote yes and get your friends to do the same.

Thanks for Sherifa Zuhur for posting the poll on her facebook page.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Three women defy Saudi driving ban during holidays

Emirates 24/7 reports that during the Eid al-Fitr holidays three women in Saudi Arabia reported they went out driving, with no problems from the authorities.

Three women defy Saudi ban on driving 

Three Saudi women took advantage of Eid Al-Fitr that ended the fasting month of Ramadan and drove their cars in defiance of a long-standing ban on female driving in the conservative Gulf Kingdom, newspapers said on Monday.
Two women separately sat behind the wheel and drove cars through the streets of the western Red Sea port of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia’s second largest city. Another woman in the eastern province of Ihsa drove her car for several hours to visit relatives on Eid occasion, the papers reported.
“I drove my car for hours but I was not stopped by the police or harassed by men although I stopped for petrol,” said Tahani Al Jahni from Jeddah.
Tarfa Abdullah from Ihsa said she drove her car to visit relatives and friends and returned home without any incident.
“Police did not stop me although I drove for several hours…I have a driving licence from another Arab country,” she said. “I was very happy to drive and return home without any incident because I don’t want to wait for taxi for hours…private drivers have also become too expensive.”

A link to the story is here