Monday, October 31, 2011

Prominent Islamic cleric urges Saudi king to let women drive

News from the daily Egyptian paper, Al-Masry al-Yawm. Speaks for itself. The text is pasted in below, and you can link to it here.

Prominent Islamic cleric urges Saudi king to let women drive
October 31, 2011 -
Author: Staff

President of the Association of Muslim Scholars (AMS) Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi has called on King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz of Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive cars.

Qaradawi's official website said he has sent a letter to the king hailing his statements on the rights of Muslim women and his recent decision to allow women to put themselves forward for positions in the country's municipalities and Consultative Assembly.

In his letter Qaradawi said, "As I send you my regards and express my happiness and appreciation for your statements and decisions, I hope that your dear country will allow Muslim women to drive cars in conformance with Islamic regulations, like other Muslim countries."

Qaradawi added that both the Quran and tradition clearly outline prohibited practices, and that neither forbid women from driving.

The website said Qaradawi received a thank you letter from the king in response to his message.

Saudi Sheikh Abdul Rahman al-Barrak has called for sentencing women who drive to death, after several Saudi women began a movement on 17 June to call for allowing women to drive.

He described their cause as evil and said such women are "Westernized women seeking to westernize the country."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Marwa - Saudi woman race car driver

Nice interview with Marwa Al-Eifa, a female Saudi racecar driver who lives in Dubai. The article was printed in "Girl Racer", a UK publication. A link to the story is here. Go Marwa!

  (October 18, 2011)

She wears a traditional black abaya cloak to work and prays five times a day, but religion hasn't stopped Marwa Al-Eifa of Dubai from becoming the fastest female driver in the United Arab Emirates.

The 25-year-old marketing executive won first place in February 2005 at the First International Women's Rally car race held in Dubai, making her the first Saudi female rally driver to win the competition.

Marwa, who lives in Dubai with her family, did not receive any special training and relied on her own driving skills.

"My love for the racing car world tempted me to join the rally. I had never participated in such a contest before, neither have I received any special training. But I joined to prove to myself whether my driving skills were as good in a rally as they are on the streets."

Asked about her victory Marwa said, "I was overjoyed. I had an inner feeling that told me I would win that stemmed from my confidence in my skills. But I am not arrogant that I won. I only proved something to myself and was successful in doing that, especially when my male colleagues thought I would lose," she said.

"I would want to see more Saudi women participate in such rallies to show their skills. My family was overwhelmed with my victory. They did not believe I actually won first place," she added.
The feisty young athlete also holds a black belt in karate, and is fond of sports, travel and drawing. But her main goal is simple, and she hopes other Arab women live by it.

"Anything that Arab men think women can't do," she says, "we should 'just do it.' "

Marwa received her BA from a local college and made a career for herself in marketing and PR. She works as a business development executive for Dubai Land, a theme park with hotels and rides, which opened in 2007. By Abigail Langerak  

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

How The Occupy Wall Street Protesters Can Learn From Saudi Women

Interesting column in Forbes by Moira Forbes - advising those involved in the "Occupy Wall Street" movement to take a few pointers from Saudi women and their quest to gain the right to drive.  A link to the story is here,  and the text is pasted in below.

Wall Street Protesters Can Learn From Saudi Women - Moira Forbes

Social media has revolutionized political discourse in countries around the globe, not to mention a few blocks from my apartment in New York City. “Occupy Wall Street,” the grassroots movement decrying the lack of economic parity in the U.S., began three weeks ago with a small group of unorganized protesters. But thanks to multi-media efforts on Facebook and up-to-the-minute tweets from protesters and sympathizers alike, “Occupy Wall Street” has morphed into a multi-city campaign that has captivated the nation’s attention. Protests spanned over 70 cities this past weekend alone.

Inspired by the events of the Arab Spring, occupy Wall Street has evolved into a catch-all movement of frustration. It still remains unclear as to what activists are actually fighting for or what they intend to accomplish. From the very beginning, the movement has lacked a clear, unifying statement or a focused action plan that would result in something more than hundreds of arrests and depleting the city of New York, and others around the nation, millions of dollars for security.

In other parts of the world where the political climate is far less open than in the U.S., social media has been the critical catalyst in effecting actual change.  Yet in a country where we have the precious freedom to protest, Occupy Wall Street should look to the Middle East not just for inspiration, but also for guidance if driving change versus making noise is their ultimate goal.
Occupy can start by the following the example set by Saudi women this summer as they made extraordinary strides in galvanizing global support around breaking the country’s archaic ban on women driving.

What are the lessons to be learned?

In a region where women lack the power‑-and the protection–to take to the streets, Saudi women leveraged social media in clever and strategic ways unique to other activists in the region.  In June, a small group of women launched “Women2Drive,” a grassroots campaign rooted by just a Facebook page and twitter updates aimed at protesting the kingdom’s driving ban. Women were urged to take to the streets on June 17th, not in massive gatherings, but rather by getting behind the wheel of a car– and filming it.

Dozens of Saudi women posted videos of themselves driving online, rarely even speaking and never seeking public attention. And the Twitterverse responded in support. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi tweeted, “Beep beep and solidarity to the Saudi women & supporters challenging the driving ban!” Rep. Donna Christensen, the first female physician in the U.S. Congress tweeted, “In my doc practice some US did everything to prevent wives driving. They couldn’t! Drive SA women Drive!) And Rep. Karen Bass, who retweeted Pelosi’s message, added one of her own, “I stand in solidarity with Saudi Arabian women participating in the #Women2Drive Campaign today.”

The campaign was hugely successful except for some notable exceptions including one Saudi woman who was sentenced to 10 lashings for defying the ban. And social media once again served as the clarion call to action perhaps motivating Saudi King Abdullah to revoke the ruling last month.

The second lesson to be learned from the women’s driving campaign is to stay extremely focused. The women chose one specific injustice—the ban on driving—and used it to illuminate the other social and political injustices inextricably linked to this ban. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving or even riding a bicycle, a stunning reality that compelled tens of thousands around the world to sign online petitions through groups such as Saudi Women for Driving. Selecting a less politically charged issue such as the right to vote also enabled key political leaders like Hillary Clinton to publicly support this campaign despite the US’ diplomatic balancing act with Saudi Arabia.

In a shocking and historical move, King Abdullah granted women the right to vote, and as the women’s driving campaign so brilliantly illustrates, protesters may need a Trojan horse to drive reform around some of the most sensitive issues facing a country and a culture.

Finally, the Occupy Wall Street protesters need to learn to be patient. Now, more than ever, we expect change overnight, and while it appeared to change that quickly in the Middle East this spring, deep, meaningful and sustained change takes a long time.  Even if you can usher in new legislation, it doesn’t mean that Americans’ daily lives of will change overnight. What’s more, embracing diverse perspectives remain core to our democratic process and with that comes compromise and a balancing act for leaders today.

When the Saudi King granted women the right to vote, he faced intense unrest among the top Muslim clerics, one of the King’s key power bases. Granting women driving rights may be too politically explosive at this particular moment given the country’s instability.  He knows, as do some other leaders, the value in measured action. Occupy Wall Street protesters would do well to follow his lead as well as that of Saudi women.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Women drive in Saudi Arabia?

Excellent opinion piece from the Arab News by Somayya Jabarti. The text is pasted in below.

Women drive in Saudi Arabia?

Published: Oct 7, 2011 21:47 Updated: Oct 7, 2011 21:47

After all they are so much better off tucked away in the passenger’s seat

Outrageous! Incredible!

But why? Why in the world would we women want to drive in Saudi Arabia?

After all, we are so much better off tucked away in the passenger's seat in the safe hands of Ali, Rico and Abu Taleb. So what if Ali milked cows back home or if Rico has a criminal record or if this is the first time Abu Taleb has laid hands on a vehicle!

Why, oh why, in the world would we women want to drive in Saudi Arabia when all the men and all the would-be-men (i.e., the boys) are at our singular service, idly flicking away the flies with nothing better to do than await the opportunity to drive us anywhere, anytime at the bat of our eye lashes?

They may have jobs. (Wow, they work?). They may have school to go to. (Educated, are they?) They may have errands to run. (You don't say!) They may have lives to lead. (Oh like us you mean?) But they are prepared to drop them all once we whistle — sorry, call.

Because fathers, husbands, sons, brothers, uncles, nephews, grandfathers, grandsons, even grand-uncles and grand-nephews (how many more male relatives do I need mention?); or a friend's driver, or a driver’s friend or the friend's friend's friend's driver – in short, every man on every street in the Kingdom is at our beck and call. Right?

They breathe to drive and drive us only. Right?

These are supposedly the men-in-waiting who won’t ever keep us waiting, waiting and (more) waiting, come heatstroke, rain, showers or pain. You don’t even need to ask, ask and ask again; or persuade, cajole or even bribe. If you should ever so much as have to dash round the corner to the pharmacy, to the supermarket, to take your feverish child or your sister in labor to hospital — Shazam! Like Aladdin's genie, your chariot awaits you!

How thankful we women should be. Has a woman ever been deserted at traffic lights or in the middle of the street by her driver? (On second thoughts, forget that one!) At least no woman ever had to drive a sick father, husband or brother to hospital. They are supermen, never given to bad moods or sudden, unreasonable changes of mind about driving us. (Oops, forget that one too!)

Our streets are a constant amusement park and we lucky, oh-so-lucky women should realize what a pleasure it is to be in the passengers’ seat! Why ask for more?

After all, there is the “mini-roller coaster ride” when any Tom, Dick or Harry (or more likely Mohammad, Mustafa or Mahmoud) drives the car in “bicycle” mode — one foot on the accelerator, then the brakes, then again the accelerator, then again the brakes and so on. Breaks, accelerator, brakes, accelerator. What could be more enjoyable than the forward jerk, back jerk, forward jerk, back jerk? Extreme neck therapy and digestive quickie all in one go! (Car manufacturers: Paper bags are the next big thing in Saudi Arabia after air bags.)

Next comes the Bipolar Flip-Turn ride. Dick or Harry suddenly wants to turn left but is in the far right lane, then decides again it is right he wants to turn to; sorry no, it’s left, no it’s straight on. (Surely it's the medication he is or is not taking.)

Thirdly, the Wannabe “Fast'n'Furious” ride. Dick or Harry believes himself to be Van Diesel. At 120 km/hr, he swerves to the left, then to mid-lane, then to the right, then zigzags back to the left, to mid-lane, then back to the right lane, back to mid-lane (how many lanes are there?) Now right! Quick left! No right! Left! — I didn't lose you there, did I?

Then the crown-of-all rides: My-Street mode when all streets revolve around Dick’s or Harry’s wheels and his wheels alone. He alone owns the street. The roads, the parking spaces all are his. No one else has any right to the road. They have to be psychic, able to predict his every move and intention. He signals right but intends to go left. He signals left but goes right. Or even better does not signal at all! He double parks, he triple parks, he parks on corners, he blocks the road. (Parking tickets? They'll probably have to wait until 2015 when women get onto the Shoura and municipal councils).

My oh my, imagine what a dangerous place our so safe streets would become if women were to drive!

But for the now, our uniform-clad menfolk merely need to watch over them. And they do just that. Watch.

They do not have to concern themselves with the suicidal or homicidal red-light jumpers. Long live the “Saher” system! Saher lights flash you once, flash you twice and flash you thrice!

And, of course, they catch every violation by every car we women own but cannot drive — cars bought with money earned, money saved, installments paid for by us. And because of it, though we are prevented from committing the traffic violations, we still have to pay for them, because they are our cars. Hail the balanced hand of man-driven justice!

In any event, our pockets are so immune to global recession that if a window mirror is cracked, crushed or goes missing; if the car should suffer a dent, a streak, a broken tail-light or be involved in any accident (caused by Ali, Rico or Abu Taleb), we've ample riyals to spare! Fanning ourselves with peacock feathers in the back seats, we gleefully get to spill hundreds and thousands of riyals on car repairs, drivers' visas, salaries, housing expenses, travel tickets — the list goes on.

We understand. Women driving in the Kingdom really cannot be considered. It would require:

• Training policemen to act, not just watch;
• Training policemen, males and men (there is a difference between the latter two) to treat women drivers in the same way they do male drivers, as opposed to chasing after them, hyper-ventilating or any other immature response). The alternative would be to employ policewomen (now there’s a thought to make many sleepless nights for men in Saudi Arabia!);
• Actually implementing traffic regulations;
• Accepting women's total mobility (yes, your mother, wife, daughter, sister would go places independently — a scary thought!)

Too much change? Silly me thinking education enlightens you. Thing is, this here is no Wonderland. There are no Alices here. It is a land of promise.

We are all Manal, Najla, Shayma and Madeeha.*
This is a reality check, a wake-up call if you want.
Women in Saudi Arabia: to drive or not drive?

That is not the question. The question is: When?

* Manal, Najla, Shayma and Madeeha are Saudi women who have been prosecuted or cautioned for driving in the Kingdom.

Monday, October 3, 2011

American journalist recalls 1990 interview with one of the 47 Saudi women drivers

American journalist Rosemarye Levine lived in Saudi Arabia during the time of the 1990 driving demonstration in which 47 Saudi women, with support of their families, drove across Riyadh. Some months after the incident, Levine interviewed one of the drivers, and a few months ago, wrote about her interview - the story behind the story. A link to her article in the "Space Coast Progressive Alliance" is here  and the text is below. Thanks to Jean Grant, author of THE BURNING VEIL: A NOVEL OF ARABIA, who sent me the link to Levine's story.
Saudi Women Drive!

In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, women may not drive cars, motorcycles or bicycles nor may they roller skate, ride a horse, donkey, ass or camel. In 1990, about 47 Saudi women had the courage and audacity to drive cars in the capital city. Then-journalist -- and now a wintertime member of SCPA -- Rosemarye Levine remembers the secretive interview that lead to her breaking the story for world news.
In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, women may not drive cars, motorcycles or bicycles nor may they roller skate, ride a horse, donkey, ass or camel.

This is not a religious stricture but something imposed on them by their culture.

Even women in Afghanistan, clad in their chaderi, have the right to drive on the streets of Kabul or Herat or anywhere else in their country. Saudi Arabia has the distinction of being the only country in the world that prohibits half the population from getting behind the wheel.

Thus, in a place where men and women are rigidly segregated, these same women find themselves in cars being chauffeured by strange men, neither a husband, father, brother or son over 12 (legally, the only males that may accompany Saudi women) but probably a Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Yemeni  or one of the many sub-continent expatriates who come to The Kingdom to fill these jobs.

On November 6, 1990, with the build up of the Gulf War in the country, some 47 Saudi women went into a parking lot in Riyadh and dismissed their disbelieving, frightened drivers and took the steering wheel into their own hands.

These gutsy women drove their cars on the main streets of the capital but were quickly spotted by the muttawaeen. These are the religious police who monitor the application of virtue and the suppression of vice. They called in the local police and had the women hauled off to jail.

Finally released to their male keepers, the husbands, fathers, brothers, etc. had to sign papers saying the women would never ever drive again and allow themselves to be publicly chastised for not controlling “their women.” These very brave females were all professionals with multiple academic degrees from oustanding international universities. Nonetheless, they were “bad women” and were fired from their jobs and had their passports lifted. Complete families were under house arrest.

In the Friday call to prayer, the imams broadcasted over loudspeakers the names and addresses and telephone numbers of these wicked women, depicted them as such, and told the public at large to “do with them as you will.”

The beleaguered women hunkered down in their houses, stayed off the streets and kept a low profile. The government, under King Fahd, did nothing to protect them. Their apartments and houses were entered, books destroyed, computers taken into custody as the muttawaeen searched for subversive material. The Gulf War proceeded into its next phase when troops from many countries came into KSA to liberate Kuwait from Saddam Hussein’s army. In the interim, these women had their passports returned with an exit-only visa, meaning they did not have an entry visa to return to their country if they left. The government wanted these trouble makers out of the country and gone. All stayed and did not leave.

About a month or so after the driving incident, I met with an informant who asked if I would like to interview the woman who was the unelected leader of the group. I jumped at the opportunity.
Then a meet-up that was out of a B movie was put in motion. First, I went to the shuttered and secluded women’s section of Baskin Robbins in AlKhobar where I met a Saudi woman who handed me a piece of paper and quickly left the shop before I could ask a question. On it was written that I should go to a store that sold abayas at the other end of town.

From the abaya shop, I was directed to a children’s kindergarten in a private compound where the director handed me a piece of paper with an apartment number at the housing complex at the University of Petroeum and Minerals in Dhahran. When I knocked on the door, an Arab women opened it, silenty gestured that I should come in and disappeared.

A middle aged woman was sitting at a table sipping tea. She shall remain nameless as shall everyone else in this episode. After apologizing for the run around from one stop to the next -- she was constantly followed -- the woman softly but determindely told me the story of the Friday morning drive in Riyadh and explained that the women who participated needed the complete acceptance by their fathers for the search for freedom to travel.

She then proceeded to explain that her Baba taught her English as a child and then sent her to a convent in Egypt for future schooling, thence to USA where she earned a PhD at Berkeley. For her time, this was most unusual. He imbued her with the ideas of equal rights for all peoples with the many books he brought back fom Europe and his constant preaching of human rights.

He had died the year before, her beloved mentor, but she remembers clearly that he constantly reminded her that it is not shameful to go to prison if one is apprehended for an act that is an expression of one’s quest to be free and equal.

Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone has the right of freedom of movement. So, with this in mind and the echo of her father’s word, it was her decision to get behind the wheel. The interview was long, got published and gave me many insights to the workings within a liberal Saudi household.

These 47 women were the ones that the driver from the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia had as her example just last month. It took 21 years for women to get up the hubris to do it again.
Recently, a rather tepid demonstration took place all of a certain Friday. I knew what would happen -- and it did.

King Abdullah, walking a tight line with the Al Shaikh family -- a partner in ruling Saudi Arabia through its religious proclamations -- turned a blind eye, instructed the police to ignore the women driving. He believes that, by attrition, this will come to pass. I feel there will be many an open-minded Saudi husband who will happily turn over the keys to the distaff member of the family.

Rosemarye Levine lived in Saudi Arabia for 14 years and was a foreign correspondent throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. She has been in every countrry in that area for extended periods, and was the coordinator for the British Press Pool during the Gulf War. Rosemarye and her husband, Marty, are wintertime members of SCPA.

Injured female driver dies in Saudi Arabia

The woman who was driving her mother to a hospital in the city of Aflaj, 200 miles south of the Saudi Capital Riyadh, has passed away from injuries sustained in the accident. Her mother was killed in the accident. A link to today's story on the driver's death comes from today's Emirates 24/7. The text is pasted in below, and a link to the story is here.    A link to a previous story about the accident is here.

Injured female driver dies in Saudi Arabia
Car overturned as she was driving sick mother to hospital

A Saudi girl defying a long-standing ban on driving cars by women in the Gulf kingdom died at hospital a few days after suffering from injuries in a road accident that killed her old mother, a newspaper said on Monday.

The girl’s condition had stabilised following her admission to hospital before starting to deteriorate after learning of her mother’s death, 'Sabq' said.

The girl, in her 20s, 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.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Your tiara or your license?

No, the day hasn't yet dawned when Saudi women in Riyadh, Jeddah, al-Khobar, Dammam, Taif and Khamis get up in the morning, put on their abaya's and drive themselves to work, school and market. But it will. OK, now that we've all agreed on that, let's talk about tiaras.

Some years ago, Boston's Museum of Fine Arts put on an exhibit of tiaras from around the world. It was a fascinating show, because many of the tiaras on display were worn by royalty and fascinating women of the world of a glamorous bygone era. Some tiaras had unique stories behind them. In addition, they lit the exhibit so you could stand in a certain spot and place the shadow of each tiara as if it were on your own head! 

One tiara got my friend Mary and me giggling. It was set with fabulous diamonds in platinum, in an art-deco style. It held its own in the room full of priceless jewels. It looked just like many of the other tiaras there, studded with diamonds, sapphires, emeralds and rubies, until we read the story behind it. You see a British man gave it to his wife in the 1920's, but it came with a price. She had to promise to never drive again! Apparently, she took him up on it.

So think about it. Just like in England, the day women drive will soon come to Saudi Arabia. It will be amazing. And maybe some Saudi ladies will manage to exact a similar bargain, if that's what they really want.

Personally, I would never trade my driver's license for a tiara…. or would I? 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Another Saudi woman briefly detained for flouting driving ban

This story from the Arab News of September 28, 2011 about a woman detained in Riyadh for driving. She said she took to the wheel out of happiness for the King's recent announcement about women getting the vote and joining the Shoura Consultative Council as full members. Story is pasted in below and the link to the story is here.

Another Saudi woman briefly detained for flouting driving ban

RIYADH: Another woman was briefly detained on Wednesday for driving through the streets of Riyadh while being filmed by a foreign reporter.

The woman, identified as Madeeha, was unable to speak to Arab News as she had lost her voice due to an infection. In an e-mail, she wrote: “I really think it is ironic and funny for me to lose my voice when I need it the most.”

While she was being filmed by the woman reporter, Madeeha voiced her feelings of joy over Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s decision to give more political power to women.

“The more we publicly voice our needs the more I feel the king is responding to our demands,” Madeeha said.

She said she is not intimidated by the arrest, as she believes the more people voice their support for women driving, the sooner they will be recognized as full citizens.

“It is clear that women have been asking for the right to vote and run in the municipal elections and be part of the Shoura Council. This will be a real encouragement for women to continually ask for their basic right to drive,” she said.

The foreign reporter was protected by her embassy, and was let go by the police.
Madeeha told the woman that she would be all right.

“The reporter could not help herself but cry,” she said, adding that if Saudis want to be part of the global economy they cannot discriminate against women.

She was referring to a court’s decision to hand down a fine and a sentence of 10 lashes to Shayma Jastaniah for driving her vehicle in Jeddah. 

“We as a nation have to start dealing with the needs of our growing and complicated society,” Madeeha said.

Madeeha said that she drove out of total happiness over the king’s speech, and was not aware of Shayma's case, nor did she think that the police would take her into custody.

Madeeha signed a pledge not to drive again and was released.She will not have to face a court.

Commenting on the case, lawyer Sultan bin Zahem said nothing in Islam bans women from driving. He said the sentence handed to Shayma was not for breaching Islamic law, but the country's regulations and bylaws.

“It is a deterrent punishment and is based on the judge's discretion to end any activity that could breach laws and cause chaos,” he said.

Zahem said the foreign reporter involved in Madeeha’s case should have faced some punishment.

Zahem said the signs were women would be allowed to drive soon. “The current rapid developments and Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah’s decisions are landmarks,” he said, pointing out that if the Saudi woman was to be trusted with a leading role in government, they would soon be able to get behind the steering wheel.