Online Petition Calls for State Dept. To Condemn Saudi Women’s Arrests

Saudi Arrests

Women’s rights activists, in support of those fighting a ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia, are petitioning the U.S. State Department to condemn the detention of Saudi women who were arrested and held for driving earlier this week.

Support Saudi Women, a U.S.-based group that sympathizes with a movement pushing to overturn a ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia, has launched a Change.org petition calling on the State Department to condemn the arrests. The petition was launched after Mark C. Toner, a department spokesperson, refused an opportunity to criticize the detentions, saying that they were an internal Saudi issue.

During the State Department’s Thursday press briefing, a reporter asked if the department could confirm that women had been arrested for driving around the coastal city of Jeddah on Tuesday.

“These women were detained but not ever charged, and later released,” Toner said. “This is something that was done by the Saudi religious police and not the regular or national police force.”

While reiterating that it was an internal matter for Saudi Arabia, Toner said the department expressed solidarity with the driving campaign, adding that “the Secretary’s [Hillary Clinton] expressed solidarity with these women who are standing up for their rights.”

He was later asked if he thought it was a good thing that Saudi religious police were taking women out of their cars while they were driving and arresting them.

“It’s important to note that this is not about the U.S. or the West imposing their values on Saudi Arabia,” Toner responded. “This is about Saudi Arabian women … standing up for their rights, asking to be heard.”

“This isn’t necessarily going to be an easy process,” he added. “We’re supportive of this. But this is essentially a Saudi process.”

Toner’s remarks come just a little more than a week after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly announced support for the Women2Drive campaign, a largely social media-based movement, which called for Saudi women to drive their own cars on June 17. Though there are no written laws preventing women from driving in Saudi Arabia, religious rulings by clerics — often enforced by religious police — have kept Saudi and foreign women from driving within the kingdom.

Clinton’s comments emphasized that the campaign was something Saudi women were carrying out on their own, without interference from the U.S. However, she also called their efforts brave, saying she was moved by the campaign. Clinton made her public statements shortly after being criticized for carrying out “quiet diplomacy” with Saudi Arabia, which is one of the United States’s allies.

As the U.S. State Department website puts it, “Saudi Arabia’s unique role in the Arab and Islamic worlds, its possession of the world’s largest reserves of oil, and its strategic location make its friendship important to the United States.” The U.S. is the kingdom’s largest trading partner, and Saudi Arabia also happens to be the largest U.S. export market in the Middle East, which likely explains why the U.S. State Department has been cautious when issuing statements about the driving campaign.

Still, members of Support Saudi Women want the department to condemn the detentions — the first reported arrests to take place since June 17 — that occurred earlier this week.

“Does it make sense to anyone that the representatives of the United States to the outside world have nothing to say when asked if arresting women for driving is wrong?” their petition overview asks. “This is an embarrassment to our country and an offense to women. It needs to be corrected immediately.”

Image via Change.org


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Online Petition Calls for State Dept. To Condemn Saudi Women’s Arrests

Saudi Arrests

Women’s rights activists, in support of those fighting a ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia, are petitioning the U.S. State Department to condemn the detention of Saudi women who were arrested and held for driving earlier this week.

Support Saudi Women, a U.S.-based group that sympathizes with a movement pushing to overturn a ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia, has launched a Change.org petition calling on the State Department to condemn the arrests. The petition was launched after Mark C. Toner, a department spokesperson, refused an opportunity to criticize the detentions, saying that they were an internal Saudi issue.

During the State Department’s Thursday press briefing, a reporter asked if the department could confirm that women had been arrested for driving around the coastal city of Jeddah on Tuesday.

“These women were detained but not ever charged, and later released,” Toner said. “This is something that was done by the Saudi religious police and not the regular or national police force.”

While reiterating that it was an internal matter for Saudi Arabia, Toner said the department expressed solidarity with the driving campaign, adding that “the Secretary’s [Hillary Clinton] expressed solidarity with these women who are standing up for their rights.”

He was later asked if he thought it was a good thing that Saudi religious police were taking women out of their cars while they were driving and arresting them.

“It’s important to note that this is not about the U.S. or the West imposing their values on Saudi Arabia,” Toner responded. “This is about Saudi Arabian women … standing up for their rights, asking to be heard.”

“This isn’t necessarily going to be an easy process,” he added. “We’re supportive of this. But this is essentially a Saudi process.”

Toner’s remarks come just a little more than a week after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly announced support for the Women2Drive campaign, a largely social media-based movement, which called for Saudi women to drive their own cars on June 17. Though there are no written laws preventing women from driving in Saudi Arabia, religious rulings by clerics — often enforced by religious police — have kept Saudi and foreign women from driving within the kingdom.

Clinton’s comments emphasized that the campaign was something Saudi women were carrying out on their own, without interference from the U.S. However, she also called their efforts brave, saying she was moved by the campaign. Clinton made her public statements shortly after being criticized for carrying out “quiet diplomacy” with Saudi Arabia, which is one of the United States’s allies.

As the U.S. State Department website puts it, “Saudi Arabia’s unique role in the Arab and Islamic worlds, its possession of the world’s largest reserves of oil, and its strategic location make its friendship important to the United States.” The U.S. is the kingdom’s largest trading partner, and Saudi Arabia also happens to be the largest U.S. export market in the Middle East, which likely explains why the U.S. State Department has been cautious when issuing statements about the driving campaign.

Still, members of Support Saudi Women want the department to condemn the detentions — the first reported arrests to take place since June 17 — that occurred earlier this week.

“Does it make sense to anyone that the representatives of the United States to the outside world have nothing to say when asked if arresting women for driving is wrong?” their petition overview asks. “This is an embarrassment to our country and an offense to women. It needs to be corrected immediately.”

Image via Change.org


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Online Petition Calls for State Dept. To Condemn Saudi Women’s Arrests

Saudi Arrests

Women’s rights activists, in support of those fighting a ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia, are petitioning the U.S. State Department to condemn the detention of Saudi women who were arrested and held for driving earlier this week.

Support Saudi Women, a U.S.-based group that sympathizes with a movement pushing to overturn a ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia, has launched a Change.org petition calling on the State Department to condemn the arrests. The petition was launched after Mark C. Toner, a department spokesperson, refused an opportunity to criticize the detentions, saying that they were an internal Saudi issue.

During the State Department’s Thursday press briefing, a reporter asked if the department could confirm that women had been arrested for driving around the coastal city of Jeddah on Tuesday.

“These women were detained but not ever charged, and later released,” Toner said. “This is something that was done by the Saudi religious police and not the regular or national police force.”

While reiterating that it was an internal matter for Saudi Arabia, Toner said the department expressed solidarity with the driving campaign, adding that “the Secretary’s [Hillary Clinton] expressed solidarity with these women who are standing up for their rights.”

He was later asked if he thought it was a good thing that Saudi religious police were taking women out of their cars while they were driving and arresting them.

“It’s important to note that this is not about the U.S. or the West imposing their values on Saudi Arabia,” Toner responded. “This is about Saudi Arabian women … standing up for their rights, asking to be heard.”

“This isn’t necessarily going to be an easy process,” he added. “We’re supportive of this. But this is essentially a Saudi process.”

Toner’s remarks come just a little more than a week after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly announced support for the Women2Drive campaign, a largely social media-based movement, which called for Saudi women to drive their own cars on June 17. Though there are no written laws preventing women from driving in Saudi Arabia, religious rulings by clerics — often enforced by religious police — have kept Saudi and foreign women from driving within the kingdom.

Clinton’s comments emphasized that the campaign was something Saudi women were carrying out on their own, without interference from the U.S. However, she also called their efforts brave, saying she was moved by the campaign. Clinton made her public statements shortly after being criticized for carrying out “quiet diplomacy” with Saudi Arabia, which is one of the United States’s allies.

As the U.S. State Department website puts it, “Saudi Arabia’s unique role in the Arab and Islamic worlds, its possession of the world’s largest reserves of oil, and its strategic location make its friendship important to the United States.” The U.S. is the kingdom’s largest trading partner, and Saudi Arabia also happens to be the largest U.S. export market in the Middle East, which likely explains why the U.S. State Department has been cautious when issuing statements about the driving campaign.

Still, members of Support Saudi Women want the department to condemn the detentions — the first reported arrests to take place since June 17 — that occurred earlier this week.

“Does it make sense to anyone that the representatives of the United States to the outside world have nothing to say when asked if arresting women for driving is wrong?” their petition overview asks. “This is an embarrassment to our country and an offense to women. It needs to be corrected immediately.”

Image via Change.org


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Online Petition Calls for State Dept. To Condemn Saudi Women’s Arrests

Saudi Arrests

Women’s rights activists, in support of those fighting a ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia, are petitioning the U.S. State Department to condemn the detention of Saudi women who were arrested and held for driving earlier this week.

Support Saudi Women, a U.S.-based group that sympathizes with a movement pushing to overturn a ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia, has launched a Change.org petition calling on the State Department to condemn the arrests. The petition was launched after Mark C. Toner, a department spokesperson, refused an opportunity to criticize the detentions, saying that they were an internal Saudi issue.

During the State Department’s Thursday press briefing, a reporter asked if the department could confirm that women had been arrested for driving around the coastal city of Jeddah on Tuesday.

“These women were detained but not ever charged, and later released,” Toner said. “This is something that was done by the Saudi religious police and not the regular or national police force.”

While reiterating that it was an internal matter for Saudi Arabia, Toner said the department expressed solidarity with the driving campaign, adding that “the Secretary’s [Hillary Clinton] expressed solidarity with these women who are standing up for their rights.”

He was later asked if he thought it was a good thing that Saudi religious police were taking women out of their cars while they were driving and arresting them.

“It’s important to note that this is not about the U.S. or the West imposing their values on Saudi Arabia,” Toner responded. “This is about Saudi Arabian women … standing up for their rights, asking to be heard.”

“This isn’t necessarily going to be an easy process,” he added. “We’re supportive of this. But this is essentially a Saudi process.”

Toner’s remarks come just a little more than a week after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly announced support for the Women2Drive campaign, a largely social media-based movement, which called for Saudi women to drive their own cars on June 17. Though there are no written laws preventing women from driving in Saudi Arabia, religious rulings by clerics — often enforced by religious police — have kept Saudi and foreign women from driving within the kingdom.

Clinton’s comments emphasized that the campaign was something Saudi women were carrying out on their own, without interference from the U.S. However, she also called their efforts brave, saying she was moved by the campaign. Clinton made her public statements shortly after being criticized for carrying out “quiet diplomacy” with Saudi Arabia, which is one of the United States’s allies.

As the U.S. State Department website puts it, “Saudi Arabia’s unique role in the Arab and Islamic worlds, its possession of the world’s largest reserves of oil, and its strategic location make its friendship important to the United States.” The U.S. is the kingdom’s largest trading partner, and Saudi Arabia also happens to be the largest U.S. export market in the Middle East, which likely explains why the U.S. State Department has been cautious when issuing statements about the driving campaign.

Still, members of Support Saudi Women want the department to condemn the detentions — the first reported arrests to take place since June 17 — that occurred earlier this week.

“Does it make sense to anyone that the representatives of the United States to the outside world have nothing to say when asked if arresting women for driving is wrong?” their petition overview asks. “This is an embarrassment to our country and an offense to women. It needs to be corrected immediately.”

Image via Change.org


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Saudi Women’s Driving Campaign Launches Facebook Ads

Saudi Women's Subaru Facebook Ad

Saudi Arabian women’s rights activists, looking to overturn the kingdom’s ban on female drivers, have added a new social layer to their movement by launching Facebook ads about their Subaru campaign.

The Saudi Women for Driving released the series of advertisements to promote a Change.org petition that asks automobile company Subaru to pull out of Saudi Arabia until the driving ban is overturned. The “Stop Subaru in Saudi” ads (pictured above) say, “Subaru must show their values and stop selling cars in Saudi Arabia, where women aren’t allowed to drive.” The petition itself, which launched last week, points out that the company sponsors women-centric events, including surf festivals and the U.S. Women’s Triathlon Series. “But while Subaru is marketed heavily at women, your company is simultaneously making millions selling cars in the only country on earth where women aren’t allowed to drive,” the petition says.

The women’s driving coalition has also produced a series of t-shirts, fliers, bumper stickers and ribbons meant to encourage other Saudi women to exercise their right to drive. The group plans to distribute the items quietly throughout Saudi cities, and it has also uploaded a T-shirt design for anyone to download. The design (below) says, “Yes to women driving” in Arabic.

The driving campaign continues after five Saudi women driving in the city of Jeddah were arrested Tuesday. These were the first arrests reported after Saudi women began driving on June 17, the day the Women2Drive campaign — which spread through social media sites like Facebook and Twitter — called for Saudi women to get behind the wheel. It appears at least four of the women, who had been traveling in one car, have been released, though details of their case are still not fully confirmed. The whereabouts of the fifth woman, who was arrested separately, may still be unknown. An email from Benjamin Joffe-Walt, human rights editor at Change.org, says, “We assume that if this woman were still in custody that her family would have contacted local media.”

Though no written laws prevent Saudi women from driving, clerical rulings — following Wahabism, a strict form of Islam — have been interpreted as a ban typically enforced by religious police. Rumors about punishments for female drivers, as well as rumors about King Abdullah deciding to overturn the ban, have swirled since Saudi women began driving, but none have proven true so far.

Meanwhile, some Saudi women are continuing to drive even past the original date of June 17, tweeting and posting YouTube videos to share their experiences. The #Women2Drive hashtag also continues to maintain an active presence on Twitter.

Homepage image courtesy of Flickr, David Villarreal Fernández


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Saudi Arabia Releases Women Arrested for Driving [REPORT]


The five Saudi Arabian women who were arrested for defying the kingdom’s driving ban seem to have been released, according to recent reports.

ABC News says the women, who were arrested while driving in the coastal city of Jeddah, were released after signing a pledge declaring that they won’t drive again. Their legal male guardians were also required to sign the pledge.

A tweet from independent journalist Caryle Murphy, based in Saudi’s capital Riyadh, also says at least four of the arrested women were released after several hours.

The women were arrested Tuesday in two separate incidents. Four of them were arrested while driving through the Dorat Al Aroos area of Jeddah. Later that night, a woman driving in downtown Jeddah was said to have been surrounded by four police cars before being taken into custody. The Saudi Women for Driving — a coalition of Saudi women’s rights activists — launched a Change.org petition in response to the arrests, calling for the women to be released.

The defiance against the driving ban is linked to the Women2Drive movement, which began spreading its message through social networks like Facebook and Twitter around two months ago. The campaign called for Saudi women to drive their own cars on June 17. There are no written laws preventing women from driving in Saudi Arabia, but religious edicts — that follow Wahabism, a strict form of Islam — have been interpreted as a ban. Religious police are the ones who typically enforce the driving rules.

The Jeddah arrests were the first to be reported since women starting driving on June 17, even though Manal al-Sherif — a key organizer — was arrested and detained for nine days last month after posting a video of herself driving on YouTube. Al-Sherif also pledged that she would no longer drive once she was released. Meanwhile, the women who have been driving since June 17 have been tweeting and posting YouTube videos marking the occasion. While a few women were stopped and while at least one received a ticket, none were arrested before Tuesday.

Just a couple of hours before reports of the Jeddah women’s release began to come out, Change.org’s Human Rights Editor Benjamin Joffe-Walt told Mashable: “It seems the police were waiting for international attention to slowly peter out before cracking down on women attempting to drive. What’s clear is that the high levels of international support for this campaign is helping.”

The campaign has received support from a number of high profile politicians and diplomats, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the European Union’s Catherine Ashton and a number of U.S. Congresswomen.

Meanwhile, #Women2Drive remains an active hashtag on Twitter, where Saudi women continue to tweet about their attempts to drive.

Image courtesy of yfrog/Mai AL-Shareef


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Activists: 5 Saudi Women Arrested for Driving

Steering Wheel

Five Saudi Arabian women have been arrested for the first time since numerous women started driving on June 17, in an effort to defy the kingdom’s ban on female drivers. The incidents have been reported by the Saudi media and have also been confirmed by the Saudi Women for Driving, a coalition of Saudi women’s rights activists.

According to a statement from the Saudi Women for Driving, one incident was first reported on Facebook by Saudi journalist Jamal Banoon. Four women driving through the city of Jeddah on Tuesday were arrested by agents representing Saudi’s religious police: the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. The women were reportedly taken to a criminal investigations unit.

The second incident also took place in Jeddah later on Tuesday night. The Saudi Women for Driving’s statement indicates that four police cars surrounded a woman who was driving through the city’s downtown area. The woman was taken into custody for driving. Her car was confiscated, according to Saudi news site SABQ. The status of the arrested women is presently unknown.

The Saudi Women for Driving have launched a petition on online activism platform Change.org, asking for the women’s immediate release. The petition, which has more than 74,000 signatures at the time of writing, says: “We call on King Abdullah, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, to immediately release all five women, who were doing absolutely nothing wrong and driving in accordance with Saudi traffic laws.”

The Saudi Arabian ban on female drivers is not enforced due to any written law, but religious rulings by clerics have prevented women — Saudi and foreign, alike — from driving throughout the country. According to the Saudi coalition’s petition, “King Abdullah… declared in 2007 that the issue of women driving cars is a social issue, not a religious matter, and therefore subject to the rule of the state, which means that in theory if the community wanted to lift the ban on women driving there would be no obstacle.”


The Social Media Behind Women2Drive


These are the first reports of arrests since women began driving on June 17, as part of the Women2Drive movement, which caught momentum on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Though Manal al-Sherif, a key figure in the movement, was arrested and detained for a few days after posting a video of herself driving on YouTube in May, women who began driving on June 17 were able to do so without much incident. Some tweeted and posted YouTube videos, documenting their driving.

Many continued driving even after June 17, and some tweets from Tuesday indicate that some Saudi women were still driving the same day the Jeddah arrests took place. One Twitter user, @Reemalshahri, said: “my sister just drove her 3 daughters to Rashid mall and got a big applaud by people gathering in parking lot.”

On Monday, prior to the incidents that led to arrests, @khadijapatel tweeted: “Friend in Jeddah just sent me a text saying she’s driven herself to her uncle’s home ‘and no one caught me’.”

reemalshahri tweet

The campaign against the ban has received quite a bit of international support, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton breaking her silence on the matter last week by calling Saudi women brave. U.S. Congresswomen have also tweeted their support, and Catherine Ashton — the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy — has also issued a statement in favor of the campaign.

But while the Women2Drive movement does have Saudi and international support, it has met some opposition within its own country — even prior to the Jeddah arrests. Twitter was buzzing at the end of last week, as Saudi users said mosques were putting up posters decrying women drivers. As Arab News reported, posters distributed through the capital, Riyadh, claimed it is taboo in Islam for women to drive. Now a tweet from Ahmed Al Omran (@ahmed), a social media intern at NPR, is being retweeted throughout Twitter. The tweet cites a cleric who says women driving is not “haram,” meaning forbidden, but dangerous along the lines of arms dealing.

Image courtesy of Flickr, smemon87


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Saudi Women Petition Subaru To Leave Country Over Driving Ban

Subaru

The Saudi Women for Driving coalition has launched a Change.org campaign asking automobile company Subaru to pull out of Saudi Arabia until women have the right to drive. The petition is part of an ongoing movement, with origins largely rooted on social media sites, pushing to overturn the kingdom’s ban on female drivers.

The petition, which has accumulated more than 15,000 signatures at the time of writing, addresses the company as one that “loves selling cars to women, and has built up a progressive brand” for itself. The group of Saudi women’s rights activists uses the letter to point out that Subaru sponsors women’s surf festivals, the U.S. Women’s Triatholon Series and the Outstanding Woman in Science Award for the Geological Society of America.

“It’s funny, though, because while Subaru is marketed heavily at women, your company is simultaneously making hundreds of millions selling your cars in the only country on earth where women aren’t allowed to drive,” the petition says, before eventually going on to ask that the company publicly pledge to pull out of Saudi Arabia until women can drive.

“It’s a chance for your company to live up to its brand, and make a huge difference for nearly 13 million of us Saudi women,” the letter concludes.

Mashable has not received an immediate response to an emailed request for comment from Subaru’s headquarters in Saudi capital Riyadh. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Tokyo-based Kenta Matsumoto — a spokesman for Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., Subaru’s parent company — says Fuji Heavy and Subaru dealers in Saudi Arabia haven’t received information about any campaigns. Matsumoto told Bloomberg the company only has dealers in Saudi Arabia — no factories — and that annual sales in the country are limited to 300 to 400 units.

This latest petition comes one day after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly declared her support of the Saudi women’s driving movement. The secretary — who had also been addressed by a separate Change.org petition, asking for support — was previously said to have been exercising “quiet diplomacy” on the issue. But Clinton made her comments during a Washington news conference Tuesday, shortly after the Saudi Women for Driving released a letter expressing disappointment in her silence on the subject.

The coalition is still waiting to hear from Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, who is also addressed in a petition asking for public support.

While Saudi Arabia has no written law preventing women from getting behind the wheel, religious rulings enforced by the police have been interpreted as a ban. As a result the Women2Drive movement began to surface on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter approximately two months ago, and continued to gain online support through copycat social media pages and international viral YouTube campaigns — like Honk for Saudi Women — even after a key organizer was arrested and jailed for a few days.

The Women2Drive movement called for Saudi women with international licenses, or licenses from other countries, to drive on the country’s streets June 17. Approximately 45 did, tweeting images and posting YouTube videos capturing the event. As Eman Al Nafjan, a Saudi female blogger, told Mashable, there is some possibility that women will drive on dates after June 17. Some tweets and videos posted since indicate that this is indeed the case.

Image courtesy of Flickr, David Villarreal Fernández


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Saudi Women Ready To Defy Driving Ban, Fueled by Social Media


Saudi Arabian women plan to start driving their cars Friday, one month after Manal al-Sherif — a key figure in a social media campaign against a ban on female drivers — was arrested when she posted a YouTube video of herself driving around the city of Khobar.

The mass driving campaign is the result of an online movement that began around two months ago, when Saudi women’s rights activists called for the country’s women to start driving their own cars on June 17. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prevents women from driving. Though there is no written law on the matter, religious rulings are enforced by the police, which has the same effect as a ban. Women are forced to rely on live-in drivers or male relatives for transportation.

Activists pushed the movement via Facebook, Twitter and other online outlets before some of those accounts were shut down. And al-Sherif was arrested and jailed after her YouTube video (pictured above) hit the web. Al-Sherif was eventually released from a women’s prison after nine days, pledging she would no longer drive nor take part in the Women2Drive initiative.

But online support for the campaign has lived on through copies of earlier Facebook groups. And people in other parts of the world have also taken up the cause. The Honk for Saudi Women viral campaign is one example, featuring videos of women and men from around the world, honking their horns in support of Saudi women who will drive on June 17. The campaign also has a petition on online activism platform Change.org, asking Oprah to make a similar video in a show of support.

Other petitions on Change.org call on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Catherine Ashton — the European Union’s representative for foreign affairs and security policy — to publicly support Saudi women’s right to drive.

This isn’t the first time Saudi women have tried to organize such a campaign. The initiative has been in the works since November 1990, when 47 women drove around Riyadh before getting caught and arrested. Eman Al Nafjan, a female blogger and post graduate student in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, says the women were suspended from their jobs and faced widespread condemnation from mosque pulpits. Fliers were distributed with contact information for the women, and citizens were encouraged to call up and condemn them.

Al Nafjan says the backlash caused the campaign to quiet down for a while, but this year’s Arab Spring probably inspired women to speak up again — not just to be allowed to drive, but for other rights as well.


The Campaign Continues


Though Al Nafjan, who lacks an international driver’s license, won’t be driving on the streets of Riyadh on Friday, she says she knows of many who are taking part.

“It’s a huge inconvenience not being able to drive,” Al Nafjan says, referring to the need for live-in drivers and a lack of public transportation. “And the taxis in Saudi Arabia are unsafe. They are not supervised, so getting into a taxi alone as a woman is dangerous.”

She adds that there are also a number of men supporting the campaign. “It is a huge burden on the men to have to drive all their female relatives around, or to have to provide them with drivers,” she says.

There are also quite a number of men and women against the campaign; Al Nafjan believes they are afraid of change. One Facebook page (now removed) called for women who drive on June 17 to be beaten. And while June 17 was a date chosen at random, Al Nafjan says, some opponents have linked it to a Shia Muslim holiday and claimed it is an Iranian conspiracy against Saudi Arabia. (Shia Muslims are a minority in Saudi Arabia, and a majority in Iran.)

Despite safety concerns, Al Nafjan says many women will still go through with their plans to drive on June 17 — though others might make their protest on a different date.

“If I drove today, or if I drove next week … the only thing that will happen to me is that I will be taken to the police station, but I wouldn’t be taken into jail,” she explains. “They would make me wait until my male guardian comes in and signs a document, pledging that he will make sure I won’t drive again, and that will be it.”

A statement from Saudi Women for Driving and Change.org makes clear that no one expects immediate transformation from the campaign. But many participants view it as a start. And Benjamin Joffe-Walt, Change.org’s human rights editor, believes the campaign’s momentum may stay alive — unlike the November 1990 event — through social media.

“It was a big story, it made international news. But the story kind of died in two weeks,” Joffe-Walt says of 1990. “Now, women can really reach out within Saudi society. They can organize themselves via email and Twitter in a way that’s monitored, but much safer.”

“Most importantly, they can get a lot of attention both domestically and internationally for their cause,” he says.

More About: change.org, facebook, manal al-sherif, Saudi Arabia, saudi driving ban, social media, twitter

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Saudi Woman Arrested After Posting Online Clip of Herself Driving [VIDEO]

Steering Wheel

A Saudi Arabian woman — at the center of a social media campaign protesting a ban against female drivers — has been re-arrested after posting a video of herself driving on the Internet.

Manal al-Sherif, a 32-year-old woman who launched an Internet campaign against the Saudi ban on female drivers, posted a video clip (below) of herself driving through the city of Khobar last week. On Saturday, religious police arrested al-Sherif, an information technology expert at oil firm Saudi Aramco.

As the Associated Press reports, she was released after signing a pledge to no longer drive. But authorities seized al-Sherif again at dawn on Sunday. She was accused of “violating public order” and is currently being held for five days as authorities investigate the case. Her brother, Mohammed al-Sherif — who was in the car as she drove — has also been detained.

Al-Sherif is one of the women behind Women2Drive, an initiative that calls for women to drive freely in Saudi Arabia. The campaign urges all Saudi women to go driving on June 17. Arab Studies Institute ezine Jadaliyya has some more information regarding campaign plans, which include:

  • Encouraging women with international driver’s licenses (or those from other countries) to drive their cars on June 17.
  • Taking photographs and videos to be posted on Facebook in support of the cause.
  • Adhering to the dress code (hijab) while driving.
  • Obeying traffic laws and not challenging authorities if stopped for questioning.

The campaign’s original Facebook Page gathered 12,000 supporters before it was removed. Since then, a copy of the Page — Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself — and additional Pages supporting al-Sherif herself have appeared on the social network. Other Pages have sprung up as a counter protest, saying women who drive on June 17 should be whipped.

No written law prevents women from driving in the country. However, religious rulings enforced by the police have been interpreted as a ban that keeps women — including foreign ones — from driving in Saudi Arabia. As a result, families hire live-in drivers, and those who can’t afford them rely on male relatives to drive them everywhere, including work and school.

As al-Sherif — who learned how to drive at 30 in New Hampshire — told CNN, she became frustrated after having trouble finding a cab one night and being harassed because she was traveling alone.

“I kept calling my brother to pick me up, but his phone wasn’t answering. I was crying in the street,” she said. “A 32-year-old grown woman, a mother, crying like a kid because I couldn’t find anyone to bring me home.”

Al-Sherif’s arrest has prompted a number of people to call for her release, as well as an end to the driving ban. The AP reports that Khalf al-Harbi, a columnist for Kuwait’s Al-Watan Daily, wrote: “Let Manal al-Sherif and all other women drive their own cars, take their kids to the hospital, buy stuff from the supermarket, go to work without a driver.”

The AP also says activist Walid Abou el-Kheir has posted a petition on his Twitter account. The petition, signed by 300 Saudi activists, asks the Saudi king to set al-Sherif free and commit to ending the driving ban.

Image courtesy of Flickr, smemon87

More About: facebook, manal al-sherif, Saudi Arabia, saudi driving ban, women2drive

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