Saturday, December 28, 2013

2007 Story - Saudi Princess Would Let Women Drive

Two years before this blog was started, a highly-regarded member of the Saudi royal family, Princess Loulwa bint Faisal, the daughter of the Kingdom's beloved King Faisal, was taking part in the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. There, she spoke about the women's driving issue. I'm posting this story now, since I didn't do it before, and I think it's important that this story be included in the blog. I hope that those in Saudi Arabia who are trying to change the law about women driving, know that they have her in their corner. Her older sister Sara is one of the thirty Saudi women serving on the Kingdom's Shura Consultative Council. This story appeared in the Washington Post on January 25, 2007. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted in below.

DAVOS, Switzerland -- The most prominent princess in Saudi Arabia's royal family said Thursday that if she could change one thing about her country, she would let women drive _ a rare and direct challenge to the driving ban imposed by the kingdom's ruling male elite.

The remarks from Princess Lolwah Al-Faisal, daughter of a former Saudi king and sister of the current foreign minister, came at the World Economic Forum _ a gathering known for getting world leaders to engage in frank, often off-the-record dialogue without fear of criticism.

Al-Faisal, however, spoke at a public session on promoting religious tolerance. Other attendees included former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, the prime minister of Malaysia, an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and peace activist from Israel and an American cleric.

The moderator, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, asked panelists at one point to "self-criticize" and say what they would change to promote greater interfaith understanding.

Turning to the princess, he quipped: "What would you do, princess, if you were 'queen' for a day? I won't tell anyone."

"First thing, I'd let women drive," Al-Faisal said dryly, as the audience erupted in applause and laughter. She added as the applause died down, "Or else have a great transportation system, which we don't have."

Women in Saudi Arabia now can work at many jobs that once were off-limits _ a point the princess made. But critics say their inability to drive holds them back from many jobs by forcing them to rely on hired drivers, or on male relatives, to get to work or to school.

Some critics say the driving ban particularly impacts poorer Saudi families who cannot afford to hire drivers. Because of that, some consider the driving ban not just as a women's rights issue, but also as a factor holding back the country's economic development.

Al-Faisal's comments are particularly interesting because they show that while Saudi Arabia often presents a united front to the outside world, different opinions and even vigorous debate exist in private.

The 59-year-old princess is the most publicly visible female member of the royal family and one of the highest-profile Saudi women. She led a delegation of Saudi women business leaders to Hong Kong last year, has appeared at U.S. forums on interfaith dialogue and heads a prominent Saudi women's college.
But it is rare for her to speak in public or in front of the media. And she has never before publicly pushed for an end to the driving ban.

Her comments also are intriguing because her father, King Faisal, who ruled from 1964-1975, had a reputation as more progressive on social issues than his successors.

King Faisal first instituted education for Saudi girls, for example, in the 1960s, and some have wondered if he might have pushed for more reform in the conservative, religious kingdom had he lived longer. He was assassinated in 1975 by a disgruntled royal family member.

When the current monarch, King Abdullah, assumed the throne in 2005, expectations were high that he would decisively and quickly lead the country toward more openness. Indeed, for a while, Saudi Arabia made small but striking steps toward reform, such as instances where Saudi female journalists were allowed to interview men.

But the reform pace has slowed, partly because of reported differences within the royal family over the pace and direction of change and partly because of resistance by religious conservatives who fear reform will dilute their strong influence.

The issue of women drivers has been mostly dormant from Saudi public debate in recent years. It flared after the Gulf War in 1991, when a group of prominent Saudi women staged a protest by driving through the capital of Riyadh. But the government cracked down hard, confiscating many of the women's passports and thus preventing them from leaving the country for months afterward.

The debate has occasionally flared in newspapers since but never to such an extent as in 1991. Yet many Saudi women privately view the ban as a main barrier to progress.

Conservatives, however, are vocal in pushing to retain the ban _ saying that allowing women to drive would inevitably lead to their moral corruption, by forcing them to interact with men who are not relatives in places such as gas stations.

Other Gulf countries, including Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, and other Arab countries allow women to drive.

Al-Faisal is a sister of two prominent members of the current government, Foreign Minister Saud Al-Faisal and Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the outgoing Saudi ambassador to the United States.

Saudi police pounce on woman defying driving ban

Global Post published this AFP story on December 28, 2013. The story is pasted below and a link to the story is here.

Saudi police on Saturday pulled over a woman minutes after she got behind the wheel in the Red Sea city of Jeddah after activists called for a new challenge to a driving ban.

"Only 10 minutes after Tamador al-Yami got behind the wheel police stopped her," activist Eman al-Nafjan told AFP, adding that Yami carries an international driving licence and was with another woman who was filming her in the car.

Tamador's husband was called to the scene and she was forced to sign a pledge not to drive again without a Saudi licence, said Nafjan on her Twitter account.

Women are not allowed into driving schools in the ultra-conservative kingdom are not granted licences.

Elsewhere in Khobar, in Eastern Province, another woman drove for two hours, accompanied by her husband, without being stopped, Nafjan said.

Activists say Saturday was chosen as a "symbolic" date as part of efforts first launched more than a decade ago to press for the right for Saudi women to drive.

The call for action is a "reminder of the right so it is not forgotten," activist Nasima al-Sada had told AFP.

The absolute monarchy is the only country in the world where women are barred from driving, a rule that has drawn international condemnation.

Saturday's action is a continuation of a campaign launched on October 26, when 16 activists were stopped by police for defying the ban.

In addition to not being allowed to drive, Saudi women must cover themselves from head to toe and need permission from a male guardian to travel, work and marry.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Saudi women plan new driving protest

Ahmed Al Omran and Ellen Knickmeyer Zawya report in the 12/22/13 Gulf News. A link to the story is here, and the text is below. 

Activist says the government does not want to face the religious establishment on women’s driving

  • Image Credit: AP
  • A file picture of a Saudi woman driving a vehicle in Riyadh
Dubai/Riyadh: The campaign against Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving has shifted tactics to increasingly challenge the law ahead of a new nationwide day of defiance on December 28.

Women activists are now driving weekly and documenting their confrontations with law enforcement on social media to increase pressure on the conservative country and keep the issue in the public eye.

The campaigners are also trying to discern subtle but mixed signals from the secretive government for encouragement that change may be afoot.

They said authorities have used different tactics with different drivers, creating some uncertainty over where the government stands.

“I kind of feel that the government wants us to drive, but at the same time it doesn’t want to make it official yet because it doesn’t want to face the religious establishment,” said Tamador Alyami.

She spoke by phone after riding in the passenger seat with another woman driving in the coastal city of Jeddah on December 12. Alyami said she planned to drive on December 28 and does not think the government will take drastic measures to stop her.

“I think they got the message,” she said.

In a video of her December 12 drive posted on YouTube, the two women chatted nervously, scanning for police cars that soon converged upon them. The sound of Talal Maddah, a late Saudi singer, came from the car stereo: “My beloved country, you are the land of pride and a beacon of shining light.” Seven police patrols surrounded the car, stopped it, then towed it away. Authorities had the women sign a pledge not to drive again and released them.

A day earlier, two other women drove for half an hour in the capital Riyadh, before police stopped them. They were held in the police station for 10 hours until they and their male guardians signed similar pledges. But their car was not towed.

While Saudi police continue to stop those who defy the ban, no woman has been jailed for driving since 2011.

When activists announced a first driving day on October 26 in the revived campaign, the Interior Ministry came out with a strongly worded statement saying women aren’t allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.
Authorities detained a man who wrote in support of women driving, but have stopped short of more politically sensitive arrests of female drivers.

With no hint of a change, women drivers and their supporters make weekly visits to the Shoura advisory council, the royal court, and cabinet ministers with petitions and reports.

In one key meeting, women’s rights activist Hala al Dosari and another activist managed to book a meeting with powerful Interior Minister Prince Mohammad Bin Nayef. They were in the same complex, but met by video conference - standard practice for ministry meetings with females.

The prince told the women that a decision was not in his hands - something they had heard before from other Saudi officials, Dosari said.

The prince assured them the driving ban “was on the table” with the proper authorities, she said, adding this was the same answer Saudis pushing for change always get.

“Just a vague response to keep us satisfied,” she said.

The ministry didn’t respond to requests to comment.

But even the religious establishment appears split. Shaikh Abdul Latif Al Shaikh, head of the feared religious police, said in September that Islamic law doesn’t have a text forbidding women from driving. The country’s grand mufti, Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Shaikh, said last month, however, that the ban protects society from “evil”.

More than 22 years have passed since Saudi women first demanded the right to drive. Nevertheless, some remain upbeat that change could come soon. But change in the kingdom comes from the top down.
King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, often seen as a cautious reformer, announced in 2011 that women will be allowed to vote and run in local elections, and this past February, he appointed the first 30 women to the advisory Shoura Council. The nonagenarian monarch told American journalist Barbara Walters in 2005 that it will be possible to lift the ban on women driving.

But he said the “issue will require patience”.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Driven Women - SUSRIS conversation with Kathy Cuddihy

This article was published on December 21, 2013 on the website of SUSRIS, the Saudi-US Information Service. A link to the article is here, and it's posted below.

SUSRIS Editor’s Note:
A year ago we had a conversation with Kathy Cuddihy about her experiences as a self-described “once reluctant expat” and her book “Anywhere But Saudi Arabia.” In it she described what it was like to have a 24-year-long front row seat to a country in transition and to be a part of the rapidly developing city of Riyadh she first discovered in 1976. Cuddihy’s memoir documented her experiences and how her attitude transformed from initial reluctance and resistance to accept a transfer to Saudi Arabia, to a deep love and respect for its customs and people.
People Kathy CuddihyCuddihy told SUSRIS that Saudi Arabia was a “blank slate” when she arrived. “Back then there were no stereotypes,” she said, adding, “It was as if you were talking about Mars. No one knew anything about it.” Nowadays Westerners have the opportunity to know much more about Saudi Arabia — hopefully in some measure through One of the issues that captures their attention is the longstanding challenge for Saudi women to drive in the Kingdom. Little attention, however, is given to the question of non-Saudi women driving. Reliable numbers are not available on how many of the 5.5 million expats in Saudi Arabia are women, but whatever the number may be they are not legally on the Kingdom’s highways. Unlike most of their Saudi sisters the expat women may have arrived in the Kingdom after a lifetime of driving themselves when they needed to. Today we share the perspective of Kathy Cuddihy on women driving in Saudi Arabia and some of the frustrations that come with being an expat woman not behind the wheel in the Kingdom.
Cuddihy’s book, “Anywhere But Saudi Arabia: Experiences of a Once Reluctant Expat,” is now available in bookstores in the United States as well as
Driven Women Kathy Cuddihy
As a young girl, I thought the epitome of luxury would be to have my own chauffeur-driven car. When my husband Sean was transferred to Saudi Arabia, this ambition was realised. Not quite in the elegant style I imagined, but I did have a driver.
A woman committing to living in Saudi also commits to retiring her car keys. Although I resented giving up what I considered to be a basic freedom, the situation wasn’t quite as bad as I had anticipated. Because there was no public transportation, Sean’s company provided shopping buses and a couple of personal drivers to be shared among the wives. Eventually I had my own driver. This made life easier but it didn’t reduce the counterbalance of frustrations that came with being driven:
  • I didn’t have to worry about finding a parking space: my driver dropped me at the front door of wherever I was going. Instead, I worried about whether or not he’d remember to pick me up at the appointed time—or at all.
  • I could send my driver on errands all over the city. Useful… except when he brought back the wrong items, forgot to do things or went to the wrong place.
  • I didn’t have to cope with Riyadh traffic and the crazies who sped past on the inside emergency lane. I was too busy coping with my driver, reminding him to stop at stop signs, use his signal before turning, not to sit on the tail of the car in front and any one of a dozen other backseat recommendations.
It’s not illegal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia but it is illegal for them to drive without a Saudi license. And licenses aren’t issued to women. The embargo is purely cultural. A combination of deeply embedded tradition and a powerful religious establishment ensures that progress in the desert kingdom happens slowly.
People Saudi Women Driver DrivingThe numerous anti-driving arguments put forward by conservatives who fear change have no foundation in common sense. This was most famously demonstrated by the cleric Sheikh Saleh Al Lohaidan who warned women that “physiological science” shows that driving “automatically affects the ovaries and pushes up the pelvis … and that is why children born to most women who continuously drive suffer from clinical disorders of varying degrees”.
Not far behind him on the silly scale, Sheik Mohammed al-Nujaimi, claimed that women driving was a “great danger”. He expressed the usual concerns: increased opportunity for adultery, broken marriages and more accidents. His addendum that allowing women to drive would result in “the spending of excessive amounts on beauty products” left everyone scratching their heads.
In November 1990, immediately before the start of the Gulf War, 47 women, accompanied by their husbands or male relatives, drove in convoy through the streets of Riyadh. The peaceful protest had dire consequences. The mutawwa whipped up widespread opposition resulting in the women being vilified and sometimes jailed, losing or being suspended from their jobs and having their passports taken away. As Madiha Al Ajroush, one of the participants, said, “Our sin was to deviate from the collective norm. For that we are persecuted.” The crack in the door to liberalisation had been slammed shut in no uncertain terms.
It took nearly 20 years, until June 2011, before the next driving crusade was organised. This one rode on the momentum of the Arab Spring; women from all over the kingdom joined the movement. This time there was comparatively little backlash from the general public.
In October 2013 the Ministry of Interior warned activists not to proceed with their planned drivathon but there were indications that the government might be wavering in its stance: token police checks were set up in downtown areas—where the women weren’t driving. The aftermath has been primarily that of growing support for lifting the ban.

The explosion of social media means that dissatisfactions once voiced privately now are shouted from cyberspace to the world. A youthful population that refuses to be disenfranchised fuels campaigns for more freedoms. In this country of over 12 million women, females are becoming more defiant, less pliable.
Saudi men need to look in their rearview mirrors: women drivers are speeding up the highway of change. It won’t be long before they catch up.
Kathy Cuddihy is author of “Anywhere But Saudi Arabia: Experiences of a Once Reluctant Expat.”
About Kathy Cuddihy Kathy Cuddihy, Canadian by birth, has lived abroad for most of her life. A penchant for foreign cultures and languages has served her well throughout her extensive travels. Her varied career has included being a jillaroo (cowgirl) in Australia, a secretary at the United Nations in Geneva, and a public relations consultant in Saudi Arabia. This is the author’s seventh book. Her two children and four grandchildren reside in the US. Kathy lives with her husband Sean on Bantry Bay, Ireland. Source:
People Kathy Cuddihy Books Anywhere But Saudi ArabiaAbout the Book: When Bechtel offered Sean Cuddihy a transfer to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 1976, his wife Kathy agreed to go along on one condition: that it was only for two years, not a minute longer. This reluctant commitment turned into a 24-year love affair with Saudi Arabia and its people. Kathy’s humorous anecdotes of her adventures and misadventures trace the journey of a country in transition. Never has a nation made so much progress in so short a time. As a trusted journalist and businesswoman, Kathy witnessed, recorded and participated in this spectacular development. From palaces to prisons and mud houses to private jets, Kathy’s perspective is unique and her experiences remarkable. Told with the wit and stylishness for which the author is well known, Anywhere But Saudi Arabia! is a treasure for all who know and love the Kingdom, and an eye-opener for those with no comprehension of what life was, and is, like for a non-conventional non-Muslim woman in a conservative Muslim population. At times hilarious, at times shocking, but always honest and entertaining, Kathy’s story is infused with deep affection for her adopted country. Source: Also by Kathy Cuddihy:

Friday, December 20, 2013

Arkansas professors earn Best Publication Award in Milan; award dedicated to Saudi women

This story dated December 18, 2013 appeared on the website of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. A link to the story is here, and a copy of the story is pasted below.

Two professors of information science at UALR (University of Arkasas at Little Rock) received the Best Publication Award yesterday at the International Conference on Information Systems (ICIS) in Milan, Italy.
Rolf Wigand
Dr. Rolf Wigand

The article was chosen from among all information systems journals worldwide by the Senior Scholars Consortium of Association for Information Systems.

Distinguished Professor and Maulden-Entergy Chair Rolf T. Wigand, who also holds a joint appointment in the Department of Business Information Systems, and Associate Professor Nitin Agarwal received the award for their article “Raising and Rising Voices in Social Media: A Novel Methodological Approach in Studying Cyber-Collective Movements.”

The article appeared in “Business & Information Systems Engineering” in 2012.
Dr. Nitin Agarwal
Dr. Nitin Agarwal

The article stemmed from a National Science Foundation Research grant of more than $740,000 that Wigand and Agarwal received to study how blogs and other various social media platforms contribute to social movements.

Dr. Merlyna Lim of the School of Social Transformation-Justice and Social Inquiry Program at Arizona State University collaborated with Wigand and Agarwal on the research.

“Despite extensive media coverage of cyber-collective social movements, there is a lack of systematic methodologies to empirically study such movements in complex online environments,” said Agarwal.
The researchers developed new methodology to better understand cyber-collective social movements from individual, community and transnational perspectives.

Observing female activists in Saudi Arabia who used social media platforms to protest against gender-biased laws and practices in that country, the authors explained in the article how cyber-collective social movements work in cross-cultural settings.

Wigand told the conference attendees that he and Agarwal wanted to dedicate the award “to the many Saudi women who do not have the right to drive.”

Agarwal said such research is of particular interest to information system scientists exploring the influence of social systems on user behaviors. Scientists seek to understand the ties between people, technology and institutions, while also examining organizational structures, roles and crowd processes, he said.

According to the ICIS, Senior Scholars have annually recognized up to five papers since 2006 with a Best Information Systems Publications Award to recognize the breadth of high quality work that is being published in the information systems discipline.

Each year, journal editors issue a call for the best paper published in their journal in the preceding year. A committee composed of Senior Scholars reviews the nominations and selects a group of semi-finalists for further consideration.

ICIS is a major annual meeting with over 4,000 members representing universities in more than 95 countries worldwide. It is among the most prestigious gathering of academics and practitioners in information sciences.

Women continuing to fight for the right to drive

Article from the 12/19/2013 Saudi Gazette by Laura Bashraheel about the current status of the women driving campaign in Saudi Arabia. The text is pasted in below and a link to the story is here.
(Left) Mohammad Sharaf, a graphic designer from Kuwait, uses art to highlight local, regional and international issues. “Go”, his recent artwork addresses Saudi women driving campaign.

by Laura Bashraheel  
JEDDAH – An online campaign launched in October that urged the government to lift a ban on women driving in the Kingdom still appears to be going strong, with many women continuing to drive on Jeddah and Riyadh streets.

The October 26th movement received more than 12,000 signatures before it was blocked back then, but campaigners managed to put it back up again and received more than 800 signatures.

After gathering people on social media, many women have begun posting videos driving cars. However, the campaign was extended to the Dec. 28. Several women were caught by police recently but have only signed pledges not to drive again.

On Dec. 11, two women were caught in Riyadh driving and refused to call their male guardians, saying that they were guardians of themselves. They were finally released at 1 a.m.

The Twitter hashtag changed from Oct. 26 to Dec. 28, with people expressing their opinions on women driving as well as sharing stories.

Most of the arguments against the campaign describe women driving as “demonic”, “Masonic”, “Westernization” and an attempt to “liberalize” Saudi society.

One of the comments said the campaign is defying the country’s laws and regulations and those behind it should be ashamed of themselves. Despite those who are against women driving, the campaign is receiving a lot of support, with women sharing their bad experiences with drivers and how costly hiring them has become.

The campaign aims to revive the demand to lift the ban on women driving while stressing that the initiative has no anti-Islamic or political agenda. It said neither Islam nor the official laws of Saudi prohibit women from driving.

Islam and the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia both ensure that all, regardless of gender, have the right to freedom of movement, said the campaign.

“Since there is no law to prohibit adult women citizens who are capable of driving cars from doing so, we urge the state to provide appropriate means for women seeking the issuance of permits and licenses to apply for and obtain them,” said a petition statement.

The statement also said deferring an issue such as women driving until a “societal consensus” has been reached has only increased divisions.

“We as a Saudi people are diverse and accepting of all views that are not prohibited in the Qur’an or by the Prophet (peace be upon him).”

Friday, December 13, 2013

Our borderline is driving quad bikes!

The December 13, 2013 Saudi Gazette reports on Saudi women riding quad bikes in the desert. A link to the story is here, and the text is below. There is no byline for this story.

As far as some Saudi women are concerned, driving a quad bike is somehow a realization of a dream that is yet to come true – driving a car. In the remote desert regions, away from the hurly-burly of city life and public eye, they engage in driving quad bikes. They see it as fun, with a blend of some adventure and recklessness. They also enjoy recklessly speeding along zigzag desert roads, which are different from that of cities. There are dangers involved in such driving, according to a report in Al-Riyadh Arabic daily.

Speaking to the newspaper, several housewives and girls expressed the pleasure and enjoyment they feel when they drive quad bikes. While watching a number of women driving quad bikes, it was noticed that they drove recklessly through roads that were neither leveled nor paved. It was found that the vehicles were a little bit high and that made it difficult and sometimes dangerous for them to get on and off from the bike.

Big ambition

Fatin Al-Diyab said driving a quad bike was not sufficient to satisfy her desire to drive a car and move around the city. “For me, driving a quad bike is simply for fun and recreation. On the other hand, what I eagerly wished for was to drive a car to meet my needs and necessities,” she said.

Echoing the same view, Ruqiyya Al-Sameer said, “I will compensate the fact that I cannot drive a car by driving a quad bike, though it won’t satisfy my desire to drive a car. If I have been given a choice between driving a car and a quad bike, I would prefer a car without even thinking, even if it was for fun,” she said.

Al-Sameer noted that she will still cherish her big ambition of driving a car one day. “See, there is a big difference between driving a quad bike in a remote area and a car in the city. We drive the bike in remote rugged terrains and, therefore, we cannot compare it with driving inside the city and its paved roads,” she pointed out.

On her part, Amjad Al-Obaidi said a young woman’s passion to drive would not restrict her to driving only a quad bike in a remote area. “The important thing is getting our right to drive in order to meet our needs, and not for just leisure.”

Molak Al-Otaibi said she finds partial enjoyment in driving a quad bike in the desert.

“I try to satisfy my thirst to drive in Riyadh city, at least partially, through this act. While driving a quad bike, I feel delighted as if riding with a buoyant spirit. I feel that this is a start of a world of surprises and excitement.”

Agreeing with Al-Otaibi, Ghadeer Al-Hanaki said, “Though my family members are support me in having some sort of enjoyment by riding a quad bike, they worry a little that some young men might create problems for me while driving.”

Sara Saad said practicing this hobby was to fulfill the desire of some women to drive vehicles, as well as to prove their ability, in addition to enjoyment and recreation.

She is confident that her skill in driving a quad bike will be helpful in driving a car one day when Saudi women are allowed to drive.

Experiment and opportunity
For Tasneem Abdullah, driving a quad bike is a different experience.  “For me, it is freedom from the road network in the city and its restrictions when I go to any remote area.

“Driving a quad bike in the desert means enjoying some sort of responsible freedom with the consideration that it is one of the luxurious and comfortable means of recreation for young women.”

Al-Obaidi is of the view that the decision not to allow women to drive encourages young women to drive quad bikes to prove their capability on driving. “There is also some sort of recreation in this type of driving. This could be considered as a chance for women to experience driving a car in the future,” she said. She, however, added that there would be differences.

Means of recreation
Al-Diyab pointed out there are differences in the viewpoints of people with regard to women’s driving. Society and family see driving of a quad bike as simply driving for recreation and enjoyment. She said, “A woman’s driving of a quad bike should not be an issue purely because of its purpose. It is a means to have some enjoyment and recreation in specific places.”

Al-Diyab noted that society does not see quad bikes as one of the basic means of transportation, but only as a means of recreation in remote desert regions.  “Women engage in this recreation in regions away from cities. They wear abayas while driving mainly inside rented tents, away from public sight.”

Echoing the same view, Noura Amer said, “I came to know that there are specialized squares for women to drive quad bikes in Al-Thumama region. This enables women to drive for enjoyment without any restrictions.”
Al-Sameer said it might not be possible for women to wear her full Islamic dress while driving quad bikes.

Disputed issue
Muna Shahbal said nobody can say for sure that driving a quad bike would be immodest or offensive for woman. There could be differences of opinion with regard to the best place, suitable time, and ideal dress for a woman while driving a quad bike. Hence, the cases of one or two women cannot be taken as the norm, she said.

Al-Sameer claimed society in general is receptive to women driving quad bikes under the observation of her family members or at designated places. On the other hand, Al-Obaidi said some family members are scared of allowing their women to drive a quad bike for fear of accidents.

“They generally prevent their women from driving quad bikes, simply because they fear for their safety, but not because they might face ignominy or criticism from members of society.”

She emphasized that driving a quad bike cannot be counted as a means of enjoyment or recreation, but there is a chance of danger compared to other means of transportation and recreation.

Al-Obaidi noted that there have been substantial differences in the concept of modesty with the passage of time.

“Ten years ago, women driving quad bikes in the desert was considered as something shameful. But things have changed and now it has become a means of recreation and an outlet for relaxation.”

However, Shahbal said driving quad bikes continues to be a contentious issue. “Each section of society has its own reasons and justifications for preventing young women from driving. But this is purely an individual decision taken by the head of each household,” she added. — SG

4 Saudi female drivers' detention varied by their locations

Mohammed Jamjoom of CNN reported on December 12, 2013 the latest news on Saudi women driving in the Kingdom in spite of the driving ban. A link to his story is here,  and the story is pasted in below.

Saudi activist, Manal Al Sharif, drives her car in Dubai on October 22 in defiance of the authorities to campaign for women's rights to drive in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi activist, Manal Al Sharif, drives her car in Dubai on October 22 in defiance of the authorities to campaign for women's rights to drive in Saudi Arabia.

(CNN) -- Four women were detained by traffic police in two Saudi Arabian cities this week for defying the Kingdom's driving ban, according to all the women stopped.

In the Red Sea port city of Jeddah Thursday, two women, Sahar Naseef and Tamador Alyami, were stopped by police after being spotted in a car on one of the city's main thoroughfares.

Alyami, who's been an avid supporter of a two-month-old campaign seeking to gain the right to drive for women in Saudi Arabia, told CNN she and Naseef were hoping to get caught.

"We did go driving on a main street where we know there's a lot of traffic police," explained Alyami, who was in the passenger seat.
"We're just trying to push and see how far can we go with this," said Alyami, "because two women yesterday were caught by police and detained for 10 hours. Today, in a different city it was totally different. We were caught and stopped for only two hours."

The woman who drove the car, Naseef, told CNN she was so convinced she and Alyami would spend the night in jail, she even packed a toothbrush, some shampoo and an extra set of clothing.

For Alyami, an author and columnist who's driven herself around Jeddah five times now, getting behind the wheel is no longer enough in an extraordinary campaign of civil disobedience that has seen dozens of women taking to the streets since October.

"We're asking girls in different regions to go out," she said, "because we're trying to see if police in different regions react differently to cases of women driving."

According to Naseef and Alyami, the traffic police officer who pulled them over was very kind to them and even supportive of their cause. They said he told them that due to protocol, he had to call for backup, and they were soon surrounded by several more police cars. In the end, Naseef had to sign a pledge not to drive again in the presence of a male relative before the women could be released.

One day earlier in the country's capital, Riyadh, which is in a far more conservative part of the country, two other women described a far more difficult experience after being caught driving.

Azza Al-Shamasi and Bareah Alzubeedy told CNN they were detained at a Riyadh police station for more than 10 hours after being caught and pulled over by traffic police.

Al-Shamasi, who was driving, said when they first started driving down one of Riyadh's main streets, many male drivers around them were giving them signs of support. Half an hour later, after a traffic police officer spotted them, they were pulled over.

"We were then surrounded by six cop cars, and the people who stopped us were quite rude," said Al-Shamasi.

According to Al-Shamasi, despite the fact that her husband came to the police station shortly after she was taken there, it still took at least eight more hours before she was released into his custody.
Alzubeedy explained they were not looking to attract the police's attention, just simply doing what they should be able to do.

"Freedom of movement is a right," said Alzubeedy, a human rights activist. "This is a right for women here. There's no law that bars women from driving in Saudi Arabia, and I hope more women will go out and drive."

Despite repeated attempts, CNN was unable to reach Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry for comment.
The issue of women driving is a particularly sensitive and controversial one in Saudi Arabia, the last country on Earth where females don't have that right. In recent years, though, more women have challenged the government, urging officials to overturn the ban and taking to streets in remarkable displays of civil disobedience. Although women are not allowed to drive in the ultraconservative Kingdom, there is, in fact, no law barring them from doing so. But religious edicts are often interpreted to enforce the prohibition.
In May 2011, Manal Al-Sharif was jailed for more than a week after posting a video of herself driving in Saudi Arabia online. She quickly became a hero to many and inspired dozens of women to drive throughout the streets of various cities in June of that year.

More recently, in September, a website for the October 26 Women's Driving Campaign launched, and within a few weeks, tens of thousands had signed an online petition calling for an end to the driving ban for women in Saudi Arabia. As October 26 approached, numerous women filmed themselves driving in the conservative Kingdom and uploaded those clips to sites like YouTube.

In the weeks leading up to October 26, one Saudi cleric gave an interview in which he warned that Saudi women who drove risked damaging their ovaries. On October 24, the country's Interior Ministry issued a statement telling women to stay off the streets.

Despite strong opposition by conservative quarters in the Kingdom, where a puritanical strain of Islam is practiced, October 26 saw dozens of women taking to the streets and driving. The campaign's backers insist the movement is ongoing and has been a success thus far, while its critics say it has failed.

In early December, two of Saudi Arabia's best-known female advocates for lifting the ban on women driving were also detained after being caught behind the wheel in the country's capital. Aziza Al-Yousef, who was driving the car, and her passenger, Eman Al-Nafjan, told CNN they were pulled over and spent a few hours at a police station in Riyadh until being released into the custody of their respective husbands.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Women driving on HRC agenda

On December 4, 2013 the English language daily the Arab News is reporting that the Saudi Human Rights Commission will be discussing issues related to the rights of women including the driving issue. A link to the story is here, and the text is below. The story is by P.K. ABDUL GHAFOUR

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah has instructed authorities to study some 72 proposals made by the Human Rights Commission (HRC) on various social issues, including the granting of citizenship to the children of Saudi women married to foreigners, said Ibrahim Al-Sheddi, a spokesman for the HRC.

“Our proposals have also covered the issue of male relatives exploiting their authority on women,” the spokesman said, while emphasizing women’s right to movement and transport to meet their daily requirements and to reach places of work, referring to women driving.

He said the proposals were made on the basis of more than 400 complaints received by the HRC during the past five years.

In its report presented to King Abdullah, the HRC pointed out that many women were being wronged by their husbands, fathers and brothers who wanted to control their freedoms and usurp their wealth.
Al-Sheddi said that the existing law for protection against violence covers prevention of harassment. He disclosed that a new law to prevent violence against children would be issued soon.

“I think this is a welcome move. Finally, a Saudi rights institution is acknowledging the difficulties, obstacles and discrimination women face in their life on a daily basis under the male guardianship system, which always puts them at a disadvantage and makes them vulnerable,” Maha Akeel, a senior Saudi journalist, told Arab News.

The fact that the HRC also addressed the issue of women driving is courageous considering the vicious campaign and vehement objections by members of society, she said.

“The issue of children’s citizenship is a major problem for many families,” Akeel said. “I hope the issues raised by the HRC are taken seriously by authorities in order to find quick and viable solutions.”

Monday, December 2, 2013

2 Saudi women detained for driving in ongoing bid to end ban

Mohammed Jamjoom reports in CNN on December 1, 2013.  You can link to the story here, and the text is pasted in below.

updated 3:47 PM EST, Sun December 1, 2013
Watch this video

  • Prominent advocates for allowing women to drive detained in Riyadh police station
  • Aziza Al-Yousef, the driver, and Eman Al-Nafjan, the passenger, were released to their husbands
  • Their efforts follow the October 26 campaign when dozens of Saudi women drove
  • Religious interpretation -- not law-- prevents women from driving in the Kingdom
(CNN) -- Two of Saudi Arabia's best-known female advocates for lifting the ban on women driving were detained on Friday after being caught behind the wheel in the country's capital.
Aziza Al-Yousef, who was driving the car, and her passenger, Eman Al-Nafjan, tell CNN they were pulled over and spent a few hours at a police station in Riyadh until being released into the custody of their respective husbands.
Al-Nafjan, one of Saudi Arabia's most prominent bloggers, and one of the organizers of the popular October 26 Women's Driving Campaign, said she decided to go for a spin with Al-Yousef to attract more attention to her cause.
"We were looking for the police. We drove by the police station on purpose," she explained, adding how she welcomed the detention.
Despite repeated attempts, CNN has been unable to reach Riyadh police for comment.
Al-Nafjan, who tweets as "Saudiwoman," says she has grown tired of waiting for the Saudi government to allow women to drive.
Al-Yousef has driven before and was glad to get behind the wheel again on Friday but says she was not deliberately looking to be detained by the police.
"In a way it is good for the cause because you'll the keep the issue in the mind of people," said Al-Yousef. "However, some people might understand wrongly that we're confronting the government and that might slow the process."
Al-Yousef was initially concerned she and Al-Nafjan might go to jail, citing the presence of traffic police, regular police and secret police who were called to the scene. She says the mood of the police had lightened substantially by the time she and Al-Nafjan reached the station.
When her husband came for her, he was asked to sign a statement pledging Al-Yousef would not drive again.
Al-Yousef says her husband jokingly asked, "How can I do that? I can't prevent her from driving. Only God can do that," before signing. She was then released.
The issue of women driving is a particularly sensitive and controversial one in Saudi Arabia, the last country on Earth where females don't have that right. In recent years, though, more women have challenged the government, urging officials to overturn the ban and taking to streets in remarkable displays of civil disobedience. Although women are not allowed to drive in the ultraconservative Kingdom, there is, in fact, no law barring them from doing so. But religious edicts are often interpreted to enforce the prohibition.
"We have tried all the legal channels," explained Al-Nafjan. "The government keeps promising us that all we have to do is be patient and quiet, and we'll eventually get the right to drive. Officials keep saying the women driving issue is one for Saudi society to decide. We wanted to prove that really isn't the case and that the only people who really stop us is the police."
In May 2011, Manal Al-Sharif was jailed for more than a week after posting a video of herself driving in Saudi Arabia online. She quickly became a hero to many and inspired dozens of women to drive throughout the streets of various cities in June of that year.
More recently, in September, a website for the October 26 Women's Driving Campaign launched, and within a few weeks, tens of thousands had signed an online petition calling for an end to the driving ban for women in Saudi Arabia. As October 26 approached, numerous women filmed themselves driving in the conservative Kingdom and uploaded those clips to sites like YouTube.
In the weeks leading up to October 26, one Saudi cleric gave an interview in which he warned that Saudi women who drove risked damaging their ovaries. On October 24, the country's Interior Ministry issued a statement telling women to stay off the streets.
Despite strong opposition by conservative quarters in the Kingdom, where a puritanical strain of Islam is practiced, October 26 saw dozens of women taking to the streets and driving. The campaign's backers insist the movement is ongoing and has been a success thus far, while its critics say it has failed.
Last week, Al-Yousef had an audience with Saudi Arabia's Interior Minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, via teleconference. She conveyed a message on behalf of the growing number of women and men calling for an end to the driving ban.
Al-Yousef was told the matter was now in the hands of Saudi King Abdullah, considered a cautious reformer.
"I think it might have been a good thing," said Al-Yousef. "Before the government had said the driving issue was a societal issue. But now that is not an issue anymore. The good thing is now we know clearly that society is not the decision maker."
Al-Yousef added: "We are trying to find a way to reach the King now. We have a letter signed by 3,000-plus people asking for permission to allow women to drive, and we want to find a way to get that letter to the King."
Al-Nafjan, who was detained before for the very same offense, says she will continue pushing the envelope, even if that gets her into legal hot water.
"I wouldn't mind if they prosecuted me," she says. "I think it will further the cause. It's good publicity for the cause -- to be prosecuted for being a passenger in a car driven by a woman. You can't get more medieval."

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Rotana Tarabzouni Sings Once More

Saudi student and vocalist Rotana Tarabzouni wrote to us here at the blog. She has a new video up on YouTube, linked below. Her singing is fantastic, very emotional, heartfelt and beautiful.

Dear K,

As a month has passed, I wanted to say thank you for your correspondence with me at the time of launching the video I made in unison with the October26 campaign. Your support was so meaningful to me . 

As I continue to pursue music as a way of inspiring other Arab women – and women in general - to follow their bliss , I think it is very important that I keep those that have supported me along the way posted .

As you can imagine, there was quite a bit of backlash and efforts to silence me after that video, as has been the case whenever I rise and sing as a Saudi women. Instead of fighting dark with dark, I decided to sing ..Below is the link , I hope you enjoy it and thank you so much again .


Friday, November 29, 2013

Saudi women drivers: Leading female campaigner stopped

BBC report of November 29, 2013. A link is here, text pasted below.

Saudi women's rights campaigner, Aziza al Yousef
Aziza al Yousef was stopped by Saudi police as she drove through Riyadh

A leading Saudi campaigner for giving women the right to drive has been stopped by police as she was driving through the capital, Riyadh. Photos of Aziza al Yousef were posted on Friday morning as she was seen at the wheel.Her fellow activist, Eman al Nafjan, took the pictures.
On her Twitter page, Ms Nafjan provided a running account of their drive, saying they bought a bunch of bananas without anyone batting an eyelid.

She posted a photo of them filling up at a petrol station and expressed her satisfaction that this all seemed to be treated as an everyday occurrence.

But then they were spotted and reported to the police, who stopped them. Aziza al Yousef messaged the BBC to say that they had been taken to a police station.

Both were asked to sign a pledge that they would not drive again. Ms Nafjan refused to.

On Twitter, while still with the police, she said that if she was asked to call her male guardian, she would simply say that she was her own guardian. But her guardian -- known as a mahram -- was called against her wishes.

Fresh hope
The two women were then released. Ms Nafjan described her companion as the bravest and most courageous of drivers. It was only two days ago that Aziza al Yousef -- with another activist, Hala al-Dosari -- had a meeting with the Interior Minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.
A Saudi police car parked close to the vehicle that Aziza al Yousef has been driving On her Twitter account, Eman al Nafjan said police (above right) stopped the vehicle that Aziza al Yousef had been driving
The prince has long been one of the most powerful men in the country and is seen as a possible future king -- representing a younger generation than the current leaders. Activists said the meeting was positive and the minister sympathetic.

No-one expected this to herald any big change in the immediate future. Reform is a gradual process in Saudi Arabia and there remain powerful factions opposed to lifting the driving ban on women.

But the meeting came after activists relaunched a campaign several months ago with the aim of making the idea of women driving in Saudi Arabia a normal part of life.

They originally set 26 October as a day for women -- with the support of Saudi men -- to take to the wheel.

Dozens did, but the authorities made clear they would not accept a mass flouting of the ban.
Since then, activists have recast the campaign around the non-existent day of November 31 -- a sign that it would continue indefinitely. Several women have been driving and posting videos of themselves since.

The meeting with Prince Mohammed bin Nayef had been seen as possibly offering fresh hope that the authorities might be taking a softer stance.

The brief detention of Aziza al Yousef and Eman al Nafjan is an abrupt reminder that nothing can be taken for granted in Saudi Arabia -- and that a shift one way often only signals a shift in the exact opposite direction a few days later.

Driving ban protects women from "evils" - Saudi Grand Mufti

On November 28, 2013, posted this story by Daniel Shane.. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted below.

(AFP/Getty Images)
(AFP/Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia’s highest Islamic authority has warned the Gulf country not to become preoccupied with the issue of women’s right to drive, while accusing users of online social media of spreading “misleading doctrines”.

Giving a lecture at Saudi’s Taibah University, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh said that the “objective behind not allowing women to drive is to protect society from evils”.

Women are not permitted to drive in the highly conservative Gulf state, which practices an austere version of Wahabi Islam, despite there being no official law that prohibits this. In October, a number of female activists organised a nationwide day of defying the ban, with many posting video clips of themselves driving on YouTube.

The campaign was largely organised through online channels such as Twitter and came despite warnings from the government urging it not to go ahead.

The Grand Mufti accused those that use such platforms of attempting to destabilise Saudi society. “They seek to undermine the social fabric and they are platforms for malice that promote misleading doctrines,” he was quoted as saying by a local newspaper.

He added that the Qur’an, the Islamic holy text, stipulated that Muslims must obey national rulers, in the latest example of the Grand Mufti’s increasingly political statements.

Last month, Sheikh Abdul Aziz warned young Saudis against travelling to Syria to join militias fighting President Bashar Al Assad. "This is all wrong, it's not obligatory," he said.

The Grand Mufti has attracted considerable controversy with his public statements in the past, including an alleged call to destroy all Christian churches in the Arabian Peninsula and giving his support to underage marriage of females.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Saudi reassessing ban on women drivers

This from AFP on November 27, 2013. A link to the story is here, and the text is below:

Saudi authorities are reassessing a controversial ban on the right for women to drive in the ultra-conservative kingdom, activists said on Wednesday, citing the interior minister.

"Rest assured that the issue is being discussed, and expect a good outcome," Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said, according to Aziza al-Yusef who met him along with fellow activist Hala al-Dosari.

Yusef said the meeting took place at the minister's office, but through a video conference, in compliance with strict rules of segregation between men and women.

But the top security chief stressed that the globally unique ban on driving for women was "a matter to be decided by the legislative authority," Yusef told AFP.

Saudi Arabia has an all-appointed consultative Shura Council, with no elected parliament. The council makes recommendations to the government, but the king remains the absolute legislator.

"We expect a royal decree that gives us this right," Yusef said.

Three of the recently appointed 30 female members of the council presented a recommendation last month that women be given the right to drive.

But the male-dominated 150-member assembly rejected the recommendation without passing it to the government.

Prince Mohammed told the activists the kingdom was "governed by sharia" Islamic law, Dosari wrote on Twitter, adding that activists insisted women's "rights do not violate sharia law, and should not be measured by the opinions of extremists".

At least 16 women were stopped by police during a driving protest day last month and were fined and forced along with their male guardians to pledge to obey the kingdom's laws.

In addition to the driving ban, women in Saudi Arabia are subjected to various restrictions, including needing a male guardian's consent in almost every aspect of their lives, and having to cover from head to toe when in public.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Saudi woman embraces year abroad at MU

This feature article from the Missourian newspaper features a Saudi foreign student. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted in below.

From left Haneen Mohammed, Katelyn Cinnamon, Amanda Gingrich, Hina Kh and Vivian Chang pose with pumpkins they carved. Originally from Saudi Arabia, Haneen is attending MU as a foreign exchange student this year. She said she has experienced many firsts in the U.S., including her first autumn.
COLUMBIA – A black Toyota Camry creeps around an empty lot at Cosmopolitan Park on a late October evening.

After parking the car at a cockeyed angle between two painted yellow lines, Haneen Mohammed takes her foot off the brake and her hands off the steering wheel.

She lets out a sigh.

"It wasn't as scary as I thought it would be," she said with a laugh.

Although she had driven a couple of times before, this was her first opportunity to drive without a parent in the car. It was also the first time she could drive in a country that openly accepts women behind the wheel.

Gender gap at home

Haneen's home country, Saudi Arabia, prohibits women from driving. Last year her father taught her to drive in the middle of the Arabian Desert, where she had an empty landscape to navigate.

Driving is one of many ways she's embraced the opportunities of spending a year at MU.

Before moving to Columbia as a foreign exchange student, Haneen, 21, had spent her entire life in Saudi Arabia, a country with one of the largest gender gaps in the world, according to the World Economic Forum. She said the gap is enforced by Islamic customs, which encourage the social separation of men and women.
Haneen was itching for something new, so when she was given the chance to study abroad, she took it.

"If any other place would have been available, I would have gone," she said. "Every young Saudi secretly dreams of traveling outside of Saudi — or maybe it's not so secret."

Life in the United States has been a series of firsts for Haneen, who is studing computer engineering. She has seen autumn for the first time and sampled traditional American experiences — an MU football game, the Renaissance Festival in Kansas City and the City Museum in St. Louis.

Her experience has also been challenging on some levels. She's a practicing Muslim in a nation that doesn't prioritize it the same way her country does. She also attends classes with male students. Schools in Saudi Arabia, both private and public, are segregated.

Daily routines such as walking from her dorm room to the shower worried her at first, but she was comforted when she discovered she would be living on an all-girls floor.

But in the midst of embracing a different culture, Haneen has learned to better appreciate her own.

"I love it here, but recently I've found myself missing home," she said.

The Saudi gender gap

The World Economic Forum's 2013 Global Gender Gap Report, released Oct. 25, ranked Saudi Arabia No. 127 out of 136 countries for gender equality. It is the first time since the report began in 2006 that the country wasn't in the bottom five.

Women in Saudi Arabia cannot drive or vote, though the king has decreed that they can participate in the voting process in 2015.

In attempt to find a balance, Haneen joined Saudi Students Association, an MU co-ed club, but she discovered that some of the members still have what she perceives as "a Saudi state of mind."

"They are nice, but I think the way they were raised taught them to avoid talking to girls," she said of some of the male members. "So even here, there's still a barrier."

Under Saudi law, women in public places must have a male guardian, usually a father, brother or husband. Hospitals, police stations and banks uphold that law. A woman may need permission to travel, marry, divorce, go to school, get a job or open a bank account, depending on the guardian.

Having a guardian isn't meant to be oppressive, she said, but rather as a way for men to protect their families.
"I like having a guardian, but it didn't have much effect on me because I have an open family," she said. "I
know it affected other families, the most close-minded families."

Haneen's father, Abdurashid, was planning to stay in an apartment in Columbia to ensure her safety while she was at MU.

"We trust her, but it was her first time to go outside the country without us," he said during a visit with his wife to Columbia this semester. He gave up on the idea after he realized his daughter would be safe in Columbia.

A tradition for herself

The toughest part so far for Haneen has been meshing her school schedule with fulfilling one of Islam's five pillars of worship — salat, a ritualized prayer performed by Muslims five times a day as they face Mecca, Islam's holy city.

Children are hushed, shops are closed, and streets are emptied when it's time to pray in Saudi Arabia, but life doesn't stop when it's time to pray in Columbia.

Haneen uses the compass on her phone to turn herself toward Mecca and prays as her class schedule allows, rather than following the standard times. The times are calculated daily for specific locations around the globe using astronomical measurements.

"You have to put in extra effort over here at the beginning, but then you get used to it," she said.

She has been pushed to determine the best way to practice her religion in other ways. For example, Haneen was told that wearing a hijab in Missouri might be problematic.

She braced for the lack of acceptance, which sparked an internal debate over whether she would wear it. Since arriving, she's come to realize the importance of her hijab: Wearing it serves as a reminder of the social and physical limits she has set for herself.

"I feel more comfortable with it on," she said. "It's a tradition for myself now, and I'm mixed with boys here, so I think it's good to have it on."

Family supports decision

Haneen's family has long supported her dream to study in the United States. They encouraged her to travel, work hard in school and become an independent woman. Her mother, Aisha, said Haneen was quiet but wise growing up.

"She never depended on someone else to teach her how to do things," her father said.

In high school, Haneen focused on her studies. She won international chemistry and physics competitions for high school students in the Arab nations and earned a full academic scholarship to Effat University in Jeddah, her hometown.

When she told her parents she wanted to study abroad, they supported her through the application process. They knew a year in the United States would strengthen her English, which they believe will help her career down the road.

When Haneen forgot her I.D. card necessary to take the test for acceptance into the study abroad program, her entire family drove eight hours across the Arabian Desert, so she could take the next available test.
"Whatever she wants to do, we like supporting her," said her father.

Learning from the present

Although it's been an adjustment, Haneen said her time outside Saudi Arabia has helped her better understand her home country.

"I used to hate that place, but now I realize (the lack of social opportunities is) not anyone's fault," she said.

"It's just life there. We don't have many places to socialize, but ... there's no one to blame for the way that life is in Saudi."

She said she's starting to grasp the social gap between men and women there, as well.

"Saudi men are raised to avoid talking to women unless they have to," she said. "I think it's out of respect for the women, and sometimes women take it the wrong way when a man approaches them.

"They might think a man is hitting on them when they aren't," she said. "So there are two sides to it."

Hassan Al Majed, an MU student who attends the same mosque in Columbia as Haneen, agreed that most Saudi men have a high regard for Saudi women.

"On the east side of Saudi Arabia, when males see a female being bothered by another guy, the males will approach him and the law will stand with the female," he said. "Whatever she wants, she will get."

Haneen said she'll view Saudi social life in a new perspective when she returns, approaching it with a more outgoing attitude.

"I changed a lot when I went to college, and I changed even more when I came here, so maybe people back home won't know me anymore."

Supervising editor is
Jeanne Abbott.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Haifaa Al-Mansour: Women driving in Saudi Arabia is a matter of time

This October 30, 2013 article is an interview with the director of the Oscar-nominated film, "Wadjda", Haifaa Al-Mansour. A link to the article is here, and it's pasted in below. This article is by Sally Brammall and it appeared in "The Big Issue". The trailer to the film is at the bottom of this post.

Wadjda's Director, Haifaa Al-Mansour

As the campaign to support Saudi women drivers moves up a gear, the country's first female film director says their society is modernising

Women driving in Saudi Arabia is now just a matter of time, says Haifaa Al-Mansour, the first ever Saudi female film director.

Haifaa Al-Mansour, 39, told the Big Issue: “Five years ago everyone [in Saudi Arabia] was opposed to women driving and now it’s a hot topic. It will happen. It’s just a natural progression of how the society is modernising.”

Driving is forbidden for women in Saudi Arabia, but in recent weeks the issue has jumped to the top of the political agenda after cleric Sheik Salah al-Luhaydan’s astonishing public claim that women drivers risk damaging their ovaries.

Last Sunday dozens of Saudi women took to their cars and uploaded YouTube videos of their protest driving online, in the biggest demonstration against the ban to date. A petition to overturn the rule already bears more than 17,000 signatures.

Although Al-Mansour supports the campaign, she warns the direct action approach may rile the conservatives in power.

“Saudi is a country which doesn’t like noise, and if the approach is too aggressive, the conservatives become closed and defend their values really strongly,” she says. “The majority of Saudi is conservative so you don’t want to place them in that position, but take them with you on that journey.”

Wadjda, Al-Mansour’s Oscar nominated film about an entrepreneurial Saudi girl who dreams of riding a bicycle despite a societal ban (see trailer below), shone a global spotlight on the country’s ultra conservative laws. Shortly after its release, the Saudi government released an edict stating that women were now permitted to ride bicycles for leisure.

But Al-Mansour is keen to be seen as an artist rather than a social activist. “I wasn’t thinking that I would make a film and then the bicycle ban would be lifted!” she says. “But I was thinking about empowering girls, about equality for women, freedom of mobility and a better life for girls.”

She continues: “With Wadjda, I knew that a film coming out from Saudi, and being filmed by a woman in Saudi, would create a lot of buzz. But in the midst of all that, it’s important not to forget that you need to make something that people enjoy.

"I am a film-maker, film is my microphone and that is how I want to contribute to change.”

A screening of Wadjda will take place at the upcoming One World Media Festival at University College London. Festival director Mick Csaky said: “I was immensely attracted to showing Wadjda at the One World Media film festival. I am a huge believer in the power of all media to effect change, and I think that Wadjda in a subtle, human way has the extraordinary capacity to do so.”
One World Media Festival takes place on November 8 & 9

For Saudi women in Kansas city, driving isn't 'a big issue'

On November 8, 2013, the Kansas City Star published this article - based on interviews with some Saudi women who are pursuing their studies in the U.S. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted below. I think the headline does not exactly equate with the story -- but the story itself is quite informative.


When she recently obtained a Missouri driver’s license, college student Shrouk Alburj wasn’t thinking of liberation.

She was thinking: I need the wheels.

Her native Saudi Arabia is the world’s only country that bars women from driving. But as a movement quietly builds back home to issue licenses to women, Alburj and other Saudi women studying in Kansas City say they’re puzzled by the attention that Americans have given the subject.

“It’s not a big issue for us,” said Alburj, 25, who is pursuing a master’s degree in public affairs at Park University. “Driving, for many women, is a social need. But I think we really need other rights more than driving.”

Her sentiments are shared by University of Missouri-Kansas City undergraduate Samaa Gazzaz. She is driving now, too, but has been conflicted over the years on whether Saudi custom must change.

American friends tell Gazzaz “it’s crazy” for a culture to forbid women from getting behind the wheel. “I’m not sure why they’re angry about it,” she said, “since I’m not angry...

“I think when you live with something for a very long time, and life is good, you don’t see the need to change,” said Gazzaz, 21. “Though I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before this does change.”

She added: “You can’t apply all the same rules here as there. It’s a really different culture. And it’s OK for people to be different.”

Experts said the ambivalence expressed by many Saudis, both within the kingdom and at U.S. universities, speaks to the power of Saudi traditions and to annoyance that Western societies ridicule their social codes.
“It’s not that they don’t care about driving,” said Ann E. Mayer, a scholar on women’s international rights at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “They may be upset about this patronizing American attitude: ‘Oh, you poor, backward people.’”

On Oct. 26, a few dozen women in Saudi Arabia defiantly got into their family cars and drove. Some posted videos of themselves behind the wheel.

Madiha al-Ajroush, a psychologist in the capital of Riyadh, has been pressing her government to issue licenses to women since 1990. News reports of the modest demonstration suggested the cause has gained little traction within a society deeply loyal to the 89-year-old King Abdullah.

“This is not a revolution,” Ajroush told The New York Times. She said the campaign merely seeks to enable her and other women to “do something as small as get myself a cappuccino or something as grand as taking my child to the emergency room” without the need for a male driver.

In Kansas City, the need to drive independently strikes many Saudi students within weeks of their arrival.

“In this city, I have to drive,” said Park graduate student Najlu Alkhalifa, who is single and would prefer not owning a car. Before coming here, she spent three years at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse “without even thinking of driving. Public transportation took care of me.”

Alkhalifa, 29, and other students interviewed by The Star insisted that their defense of Saudi driving customs was not fueled by Islamic beliefs; if so, they wouldn’t be driving in another country.

In fact, no other Islamic country denies women driving privileges.

“Even the Saudis will tell you it’s not an Islamic thing, it’s a Saudi thing,” said Ibrahim Hooper of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations. “But this driving issue gets lumped into a mass of information that Muslim-bashers keep repeating.

“I don’t know why the king doesn’t just call for issuing licenses to women and move on,” Hooper added.

“It’s not so much about the issue of driving as it is about Saudis not wanting the West to tell them how to run their culture.”

Human-rights advocates consider the driving issue much more serious, entwined in a larger culture that subjugates women of Saudi Arabia — a key U.S. ally — to second-class citizenship.

Against the wishes of strict Muslim clerics, the kingdom in recent years sent female athletes to the Olympic Games and appointed 30 women to the top advisory body, the Shura Council. But that body doesn’t legislate and its male-dominated chamber has not taken up requests of female members to discuss the issuance of driving permits.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, meeting in Riyadh this month with Saudi officials, downplayed America’s diplomatic role in securing rights for motorists.

“We embrace equality for everybody,” Kerry told reporters. “But it’s up to Saudi Arabia to make its own decisions about its own social structure.”

University of Kansas law professor Raj Bhala said that while nothing codified in Saudi or Islamic law prohibits women from driving, Saudi Arabia’s refusal to grant licenses to women flies in the face of international law with respect to equal rights.

“It seems so obvious” even if the United Nations is mum on whether driving is a human right, Bhala said: “Women are entitled to equal dignity and equal protection. That’s like asking me if rain is wet.”

He said the reluctance of Saudi women studying in the United States to criticize the custom may be partly due to their reliance on scholarships funded by their government.

UMKC student Gazzaz and her friend, Reham Bamusa of Park University, said their mothers back home — both teachers, one retired — seldom complain about needing a male relative or paid driver to take them places.
The professional drivers are provided in-home accommodations.

The two students, who came to this country with their husbands, have thus far taken different approaches to motoring around Kansas City.

Gazzaz learned to drive a Toyota RAV4 and obtained her license shortly after arriving last year.
“It was exciting, a new experience,” she said. “I’ve changed a little seeing this whole new world. I don’t know if that’s because of the culture here or me just developing” as a young adult.

Bamusa, however, is holding off the driving experience. She rides the bus if she needs to go to the supermarket and her husband is off to class.

“I like to be with my husband when in the car,” said Bamusa, 28. “That’s just more comfortable...
“And I like to be pampered. I’ll tell him, ‘Please, please, will you take me?’”

Read more here:

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Let women drive for the safety and welfare of their families

Opinion piece in the 11/17/2013 edition of the English language daily the Saudi Gazette, by radio broadcaster and writer Samar Fatany. You can link to the story here, and the text is below.

Samar Fatany

The recent crackdown on undocumented drivers has disrupted the daily lives of  many families in Saudi society. Professional women were immobilized and kindergarten schools suffered the most. The brave Saudi women spearheading the women’s driving campaign are motivated by their concern for the safety and welfare of their loved ones, which is why they continue to demand permission to drive. These women refuse to be dissuaded by  ignorant fatwas and the narrow-mindedness that continues to dominate the mindset in society creating an attitude hostile to the concept of women driving in this country. 

The struggle between reformers and hardliners continues despite the official ban on extremists’ fatwas. There are still powerful and influential clerics who are blocking the changes that could modernize the existing system and they control and infringe on people’s privacy rights. One example is the fatwa that bans women from driving because it could affect their ovaries or encourage immoral behavior.  

Many Saudi families today do not wish to comply with the strict lifestyle of the hardliners, who proclaim modernity to be un-Islamic. Many families want a modern Muslim lifestyle that supports a more flexible attitude that is in tune with the realities of the 21st century.

In 2010 Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah banned all fatwas that were not authorized by the Council of Senior Ulema. However, such fatwas continue to be issued by some extremist Ulema causing much public frustration and international criticism. Websites and call-in shows on religious channels continue to promote and interview ultra-conservative Ulema who see themselves as superior to others and are hostile to anyone who does not conform to their views They use social media to express their condemnations and their rigid interpretations of Islamic Shariah laws. That is why the Saudi women’s driving campaign is not gaining momentum. We need a stronger campaign countering the negative fatwas supporting the ban.

Social activists and researchers should address the negative aspects of the continued ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia and expose how it is a source of misery to many Saudi homes, leading at times to divorce, broken homes and juvenile delinquency.  There is a dire need to educate the public and spread awareness about how women who drive can contribute to the welfare of the family. It is time to put into action a plan that would honor the role of women and protect the Saudi family from further abuse.

Economists stress that the high cost of living and inflation make it difficult for single-income families to provide the basic needs of the average family living in Saudi Arabia today. The participation of women in the workforce is no longer a luxury; it has become an economic necessity. In the absence of public transportation, it is a daily frustration for women to get to work.  How and who takes the children to school is also another daily ordeal that middle class families are forced to struggle with. The frustration over the lack of a driver or the expenses of a driver combined with having to deal with his reckless driving, abuse of the vehicle, rude behavior and untrustworthiness are a source of tension in every Saudi household.  Lifting the ban on women driving can make life much easier for many families and can contribute to their social and economic welfare.

The media should play a bigger role in highlighting case studies of Saudi families who suffer daily because of the ban. Researchers should conduct studies to address the negative aspects of the ban and prompt government action to resolve the social, psychological and economic injustice inflicted upon the educated middle class. Women should be allowed to drive for the well-being of their families. In other countries, the luxury of a chauffeured car is a privilege that only the rich in society are able to enjoy, but in our case it is a great burden.  

Social scientists should address the psychological and economic needs of average middle class families to protect them from stressful conditions and a depressive lifestyle. When the family is faced with daily stress and the frustrations of immobility or its members become prisoners in their own homes, this ultimately leads to many negative consequences, especially unhappy women and children. It is time we implement well-researched strategies that can  provide efficient traffic laws and safe roads so that women can drive. The State remains responsible for enforcing the necessary laws that can guarantee the safety of women drivers and ensure the well-being of the average middle class family. 

The government must recognize that today’s professional young men and women are a different generation; they are more exposed to the world and have access to a more comfortable and convenient lifestyle across the globe. They continue to express their frustration and discontent in Internet forums and YouTube messages. Calling on the government to allow women to drive and to help them cater to the needs of their families by driving their children to school or their parents to a doctor’s appointment is a legitimate demand that would guarantee the average Saudi family a life of dignity and prosperity on a par with the more advanced societies of the world.

The ban on women driving has a negative effect on the lives of women and their families. It is unacceptable treatment of the Saudi family of the 21st century. The happiness, safety and welfare of Saudi families could influence the direction of our nation and the future of our younger generation.

Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and writer. She can be reached at