Tuesday, October 29, 2013

US backs rights of women in ally Saudi to drive

October 29, 2013 - This from AFP - you can link to the story here, and the text is below.

The United States said on Monday it supports the "universal rights" of women to drive in Saudi Arabia, after a weekend protest there saw several women defy the law by taking the steering wheel.

"We support the full inclusion of women in Saudi society. People throughout the world share the same universal rights to assemble and express themselves peacefully," said State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki.

"So certainly, we would support their ability to drive," Psaki said when asked about asked the Saudi campaign, in which women were encouraged to take to the steering wheel on October 26 even if it meant confronting authorities.

"We support, of course, the right of women everywhere to make their own decisions about their lives and their futures and the right to benefit equally from public services and protection from discrimination," the US spokeswoman stressed.

At least 16 women were stopped by police on Saturday and were fined and forced along with their male guardians to pledge to obey the conservative-kingdom's laws.

A Saudi video mocking the kingdom's unique ban on female driving has gone viral, featuring a male performer singing "no woman, no drive", an adaptation of Bob Marley's "No Cry" hit.

Nearly 3.5 million people had seen the 4:15-minute video by Monday, two days after the adaptation of the reggae legend's "no woman, no cry" had been posted on YouTube.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Samia al-Musalmani speaks about her driving experience

This is an interview with one of the women who drove in Saudi Arabia on October 26, 2013, Samia al-Muslmani. It's part of an interview with her from CNN.

Women who defied Saudi driving ban fear repercussion

Mohammed Jamjoom reports for CNN on October 28, 2013. A link to his story (with videos) is here with full text below.

(CNN) -- Several women who publicly supported a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia's de facto ban on women driving fear they are being followed and investigated by the country's secret police.
The women, who requested anonymity due to their concerns for their safety, described to CNN Monday how they'd been "followed by cars filled with men since Saturday," when dozens of women across the kingdom participated in the October 26 Women's Driving Campaign.
At least five women said vehicles had been parked outside their houses since Saturday.
"I don't know for sure if it is secret police or just men trying to harass us because we want the right to drive, but they are trying to intimidate us," said one woman.
Saudi women's driving protest kicks off

"I'm positive I'm being followed by the secret police since Saturday," said another, who added she'd gotten no official word she was being investigated.

Over the weekend, in extraordinary act of civil disobedience, at least 41 women got behind the wheel and drove on the streets of various Saudi cities. Many filmed themselves and uploaded those videos to YouTube.
Now, several of them say the euphoria of that moment has quickly turned to worry over what might happen to them next. Many wonder if they'll be punished for hitting the open road in such a closed society.
While no formal law exists in Saudi Arabia specifically barring women from driving, religious edicts are often interpreted there to mean it is illegal for females to do so. Other Saudi women have been penalized in the past for defying the ban.

In 1990, a group of 47 women protested the prohibition by driving through the streets of Riyadh, the country's capital. After being arrested, many lost their jobs and were placed under a travel ban.
In 2011, women's rights activist Manal Al-Sharif spent nine days in jail for posting online a video of herself driving.

Adding to their fears, the women say, is the detention of a man who worked closely with the campaign. They say Tariq Al-Mubarak, a columnist and teacher, was called in for questioning by the Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution in Riyadh on Sunday and has not been released yet.

Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry would neither confirm nor deny if Al-Mubarak was being held. Reached via text message, Maj. Gen. Mansour Al-Turki, the Interior Ministry's spokesman, responded to CNN, saying, "as far as I know, the Bureau of Investigation (BIP) doesn't detain anybody, but they could call people for questioning or interrogation."

Despite repeated attempts, CNN was unable to reach the BIP for comment and was told by Al-Turki that the agency has no spokesperson.

When asked if Saudi women who participated in or supported the women's driving campaign were being targeted, followed or investigated, Al-Turki told CNN, "I don't understand the reason to follow anybody. If we have anything against anyone we would act according to the laws."

One woman, whose worry is growing by the hour, said participants in the movement only wanted to "emphasize to the Saudi government that this campaign is not a challenge to the Saudi government."
She described the campaign, which has gained serious momentum since it was first announced in late September, as "just following up on King Abdullah and other officials' words in the past that the women's driving issue is one for society to decide."

"We just want to be allowed to drive our own cars," she said.

Saudi Arabia is still very much split over the question of women driving, with many women there supporting not just the driving ban, but also in favor of the conservative kingdom's guardianship system, which mandates that Saudi women cannot go to school, get a job or even travel without permission from their male guardians.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Important instructions to be followed if a woman is caught driving: General Department of Traffic

A reader sent the English language daily Saudi Gazette posted this instruction sheet on what to do if a traffic officer comes upon a female driver. A link to the story is here, and the text is below.

Last updated: Sunday, October 27, 2013 8:38 AM

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia  Ministry of Interior/Public Security General Department of Traffic Jeddah Traffic


Important instructions to be followed if a woman is caught driving:

1. If you see a woman driving, ask her to pull over in a place away from main streets and congested areas. Handle the situation as per the plan.

2. As per Article (71) of traffic regulations, a fine should be given to any woman who is caught driving as well as to the car owner who allowed her to use his automobile.

3. She and her male guardian must sign an undertaking. The “girl” and her car should be handed over to the “father”.

4. If there is no ‘mahram’ in the car or if he is late in showing up at the site after he has been summoned, she with her car should be taken to the nearest police station in company of a female prison officer.

5. No pursuit of her if she flees with her car. Taking the vehicle’s plate number is enough.

6. The female driver, who has been caught before in similar cases, should be referred to the Emir’s office while the vehicle should be impounded.

Saudi women defy authorities over female driving ban

Muhammad Jamjoom of CNN gives his wrap-up report on October 26, 2013. A link to his story is here, and the story is pasted below.

-- In an extraordinary display of civil disobedience, women in Saudi Arabia on Saturday defied their nation's de facto ban on women driving by getting behind the steering wheel.

After a campaign for change gathered pace on social media, numerous women filmed themselves behind the wheel Saturday in various cities and uploaded those videos to YouTube.

Several Saudi supporters of the October 26th Women's Driving Campaign told CNN that at least 25 women drove Saturday.

Authorities stopped five women who were spotted driving in the Saudi capital and "each case was dealt with accordingly," Col. Fawaz Al-Meeman of Riyadh police told CNN.

Al-Meeman, an assistant spokesman for that city's police department, explained that the women weren't taken to police stations. Instead, they were kept in their vehicles until their male guardians arrived, at which point the women were released after signing pledges not to drive again.

Driving campaign supporter Mai Al-Swayan, an economic researcher, said she was one of the women who drove Saturday. She posted a video on YouTube showing her driving.

She said she drove from home to a grocery store in Riyadh, and then back with her groceries. "I drove on the highway and was noticed by a couple of cars but they were fine with it," she said.

"I'm very proud. I feel like we accomplished the purpose of our campaign."

Al-Swayan, who has taken the wheel before in defiance of the ban, said she was worried about what might happen before she drove Saturday but now plans to keep doing it.

She said she believed more women would drive in the days to come.

Photographer: Taken to police statio
While Riyadh police said no one was taken to police stations, that wasn't the case in Jeddah, said photographer Samia El-Moslimany.

She said she was detained in the evening for having driven and taken to a police station, where there was another woman who had been stopped for driving. El-Moslimany said she was later released.

"I thought I was going to take an uneventful drive around the neighborhood to solidify my reasoning that it's not against the law, simply against the current customs of our country," El-Moslimany told CNN.

Men she believes to be police informants spotted and followed her, she said. She pulled over and called her driver to take her back home, but police appeared and she had to go to the station.

"We were treated with respect and treated so professionally," El-Moslimany said. "We described how we were not part of any demonstration, that we ... felt it was our right. They spoke to us very kindly and said we'd have to sign a pledge not to drive again."

Police told the women they needed their guardians to come to the station before they could be released, she said.

Jeddah police could not be immediately reached for comment.

Interior Ministry: Laws will be enforced
Asked if any women were observed or stopped from driving, or if there was an increased police presence on the streets of major cities, Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour Al-Turki said it was a "normal day, just like every Saturday."

He added, "I am not aware of any violation. Usually regional police spokesmen would speak to media about any, if any violation takes place."

Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry issued a warning earlier in the week to women caught driving and anyone taking part in demonstrations.

Without outlining how laws would be applied and what punishment might be doled out to offenders, Al-Turki said then, "All violations will be dealt with -- whether demonstrations or women driving."

He added, "Not just on the 26th. Before and after. At all times."

No traffic law specifically prohibits women from driving in Saudi Arabia, but religious edicts there are often interpreted to mean women are not allowed to operate a vehicle.

It's not clear what action might be taken against women who defy the de facto ban.

Several Saudi women supporting the campaign said they received threatening calls Thursday from men claiming to represent the Interior Ministry, according to women's rights activists who requested anonymity.

The callers warned the women not to drive before, on or after Saturday, the activists said.

Initially, Al-Turki denied any calls were made. He later contacted CNN to clarify his comments, saying the phone calls were a public relations move by the ministry to help people understand that laws would be "fully enforced" Saturday.

'Shameful' to detain women for driving
Adam Coogle, a Saudi Arabia researcher for Human Rights Watch, told CNN via e-mail that the Saudi Interior Ministry was trying to "deflate the momentum" behind the campaign through "direct, individual intimidation."

He called on Saudi Arabia to end discrimination and allow women to go about their business.

"It is shameful that a woman could be detained for activity that isn't illegal," he said. "The Interior Ministry claims it is against 'activities that disturb public peace,' but pulling over and arresting activists merely for practicing their rights is a far greater threat to public peace than merely getting behind the wheel."

One of those spearheading the driving campaign is activist Manal Al-Sharif, who was jailed for more than a week in 2011 after posting a video of herself driving.

Al-Sharif, who now lives in the United Arab Emirates, said it is a positive sign that the government stated its position on women driving.

"They kept telling the world that the women's driving issue was one for Saudi society to decide upon," she said. "Society is now showing it is supportive of the idea of women driving. The government's reaction makes it very clear this is not a societal decision. This is a political decision."

Saturday's protest was the culmination of an online movement launched in late September urging Saudi women to get behind the wheel.

The campaign quickly gained momentum, with its online petition garnering more than 16,000 signatures despite the kingdom's restrictions on protests.

The online initiative was boosted by the fact that residents of Saudi Arabia are highly active on social media and YouTube.

Rights group Amnesty International on Thursday urged Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive and not punish those campaigning for change.

The group said at least 35 women drove on Saudi streets Saturday, filming and uploading their videos on to YouTube.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Time for women to take the wheel

Saudi Gazette opinion piece on October 26, 2013 by Rawan AlSubaie. A link to the article is here, story below.

It's that time of year again, the days are getting shorter, desert camping season is upon us and it's time for the almost annual “were going to drive whether you like it or not and probably get arrested, fined, socially ridiculed and what-not” campaign. In other words, this season, driving is the new black.

Women's rights have been a hot topic since the 18th century, gaining political and philosophical importance throughout Europe. It was the age of enlightenment and yet many opposed the movement, including the notable French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau who considered that it was the natural order of the universe for woman to obey men. Sounds familiar? I know.

However, despite opposition, the movement gained momentum and propelled throughout the West. It took  thousands of voices and 300 years before any notable change was seen. Indeed in the US, slavery was abolished before women were allowed to vote and in some countries like Switzerland women were not given the right to vote until 1971. In such a historical context, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is seen as a reformer, accomplishing in a lifetime what the West struggled for centuries to accomplish. Unfortunately, these days it takes around five years to agree on what will be the official weekend of the nation.

There have been several campaigns for women to drive in Saudi Arabia since the original 1991 effort; demonstrations have been staged and petitions have been signed, the last petition posted on the 26th of October campaign site reached 13,000 names before the site was blocked.

Meanwhile, authorities have managed to tread the thin in-between line by carefully camouflaging themselves within a wall of legal and social contradiction. Driving is not officially illegal, but authorities have prosecuted women who have attempted to drive in the past quite harshly. In addition, female driving licenses are unattainable resulting in a de-facto ban. Such obstacles within the legal system itself make it difficult for a change of attitude to take place with regard to women driving.

Many have stated “Westernization” as a cause for this delay. However, it is crucial to understand that the masses are not demanding women's rights in a Western context, far from it. Women don’t want the same rights as men, they want their own rights which have been denied by culture but are clearly stated in religion.

As journalist Maha Al-Akeel put it: "Look, we are not asking for ... women's rights according to Western values or lifestyles ... We want things according to what Islam says. Look at our history, our role models.” Moreover, lifting the ban on women driving has clear economic benefits for families that cannot otherwise afford a driver. And combined with recent reformation within the Ministry of Labor restricting the number of visas and immigrant workers, obtaining a driver will become increasingly more difficult.

Change must be driven by necessity - pun totally intended - and with the recent reform throughout the country, women will come to realize that it is time to adapt and take the wheel. History repeats itself, and as demonstrated throughout history, the right to vote seems to have preceded all other reformation within the law that supports women’s rights. The right to vote gives women a voice to demand change and a political means by which to accomplish it.

– Rawan AlSubaie is a researcher at the Brain Genome Lab in King Abdullah International Medical Research Center (KAIMRC).

No Woman, No Drive - Satire Video Going Viral in KSA

Today Saudi comedians and performance artists released this video on YouTube. I read that it is trending very high on Twitter in Saudi Arabia today. It IS tongue and cheek, these guys are PRO women driving. This is Saudi humor at its best.

A little music to drive by.

Some Saudi women defy driving ban in day of protest

The BBC News website reports on October 26, 2013. A link to the story is here, and the story is pasted below. If you go to the link you can see the videos (which come out as photos on the blog).

Woman driver Mai al Swayan: "I went to the grocery shop near my house... I accept the risk"
A handful of Saudi women have taken to the streets in their cars on a day of collective protest against the ban on female drivers.
Several videos of women driving have been posted online despite official warnings that women who took part risked sanctions.
Some women received warning phone calls from men purporting to be from the interior ministry.
But one woman who took part said she had faced no reprisals.
"I went to the grocery shop near the house... there was a reporter with me," Mai al-Sawyan told the BBC from Riyadh.
"Personally I know three other women" who also drove, she said.
"No-one approached me," she said, adding she was hopeful that the ban would be lifted soon.
But one leading activist - the university lecturer Aziza al-Yousef - said she had decided not to take part in the protest drive after being called by the authorities.
Saturday's protest is the third of its kind since 1990, after which a number of women were arrested or lost their jobs.
Police guidance About 17,000 people signed a petition calling either for women to be allowed to drive or for an explanation of why the prohibition should remain in force.
An interior ministry spokesman, Mansour al-Turki, considerably toughened the Saudi government line on the women drivers' campaign on Thursday.
Mr Turki explicitly restated that women were prohibited from driving, with violators - and their supporters - likely to face unspecified measures.
A Saudi woman wearing a burka drives a car

Some Saudi women who took part in the 1990 protest were arrested
A campaign activist, Zaki Safar, said that this was an unusually explicit statement of the ban, which is informal rather than enshrined in Saudi law.
The BBC has seen a document advising police on how to handle women drivers.
It suggests police take them into a side street. There police should issue them and their male guardians with a warning, and make them promise not to drive again.
The car keys should be given to the women's male guardians, the document says.
But the authorities' apparent failure to act to enforce the ban on Saturday has added to activists' conviction that the government is sending mixed messages as it is itself divided over whether to lift the ban.
Earlier this week, about 100 conservative clerics asked for an audience at the royal court in the capital, Riyadh, to denounce the campaign as a conspiracy by women and a threat to the country.
But there have been indications of a less hard-line attitude by the authorities than back in 1990, and at the second protest in 2011.
As part of the latest campaign, dozens of women have posted online videos of themselves driving in different Saudi cities. No-one has been arrested.
The activists behind the campaign believe the public mood is changing, with many more people - including an increasing number of men - publicly supporting the lifting of the ban.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Forbidden to Drive: A Saudi Woman On Life Inside the Kingdom

Story in Time Magazine (Oct 25th) by Saudi journalist Jasmine Bager. A link to the story is here, story pasted below.

As most of the world now knows, Saudi Arabia is the only country which still forbids women to legally drive. But honestly, most Saudi women didn’t think to change that until the last decade or so. Growing up in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, in the 1990s, I never thought that we females should drive. It wasn’t that I was conservative; the answer was much simpler: we never talked about it seriously back then. But people are talking about it now.
On Saturday, Oct. 26—coincidentally, my 30th birthday—Saudi women are gearing up to take to the streets in protest, and drive. If the movement succeeds, it will have a profound affect on Saudi society, the economy and even immigration which are structured to accommodate a system where half the population cannot go anywhere independently.
What’s life like when you can’t drive? Like most middle class Saudis, my family owned multiple cars and hired a full-time driver who would take us to school and work, usually in our own SUV. Many of those drivers came from India, the Philippines, Indonesia and other countries. We had to call the driver in advance on his mobile phone to schedule social events, and often, those drivers lived in separate suites attached to our homes. It was normal.
The lack of mobility was just something that we whined about at first, just like when we complained that our brothers could play ball while we had to help in the kitchen. Nobody really thought to speak up. Although we were happy to not need to worry about car maintenance, we were not pleased with needing to wait for a male adult to move around town.
Brothers, husbands and fathers were not always around to drive the females in their family, especially if they had overlapping schedules on opposite sides of town. Currently, there is still no form of acceptable public transportation available for women today, and the distances between landmarks such as hospitals, stores and schools are not always within close distance to homes. There is no metro system or public bus for females to use and the few trains which run between major cities are too far from residential areas, one would need to be taken there by car. Taxis are becoming more acceptable but are not generally desirable, since the common view is that the expat drivers tend to flirt with their passengers, and the Saudi cab drivers seem to gossip to their friends about the female passenger’s family name.
The often scorching desert temperatures—especially in the abaya, or the long, black cloak which is worn over clothing—prevents females from walking in the streets during the day, and it is still not “respectable” for a girl to walk solo around the block without a male guardian at night, when the temperatures cool somewhat.
To make up for lost business because of the lack of mobility of Saudi women, fast food restaurants and even small corner stores take orders by phone and deliver to females who are stuck at home. If you want to go out but your male guardian is busy and your driver is picking up your sister during rush hour, you are out of luck. That is why drivers rule the streets.
When dozens of women attempted to drive in the early 1990s in Riyadh, it was so foreign to us. Those women were arrested and fired from their jobs. Most of us just laughed and shook our heads. We knew that deep within the desert, Bedouin women would drive and that women would drive in gated communities, but those were very restricted and monitored areas.
In the early millennium, Wajeha al-Huwaider, a journalist and activist, became the face of women trying to drive. She was frequently arrested and was loud and proud about it. Saudi women (and men) seemed either baffled or encouraged by her. Some just were angry at her and several thought she was just annoying.
We associated driving with being outside of Saudi; it was just a rule that we didn’t question at home.
And, looking back, I actually think that having a driver taught us a few valuable lessons. As a teen, my friends and I put our time management skills to work and seamlessly coordinated who would pick up whom on the way to the mall. We expertly calculated drop off locations, based on prayer times (when shops/restaurants would close) and driver availability. We learned how to share.
At 18, I moved abroad for college and got my driver’s license. I liked to drive myself after class. I loved how free it felt to just stop by and get ice cream without needing to double-check with my entire family (in case anyone needed to get picked up on my way home). I was a very cautious driver. I obeyed all signals and did not park in tight spots. I immediately filled-up when my gas tank dipped below full and always got the car checked if I smelled, heard or saw anything abnormal in the car.
Then, the internet took off and people started to use it as a platform to turn our private complaint sessions into public discussions. That’s when we really start to think that we could maybe drive in Saudi, too. In 2011, Manal al-Sharif, a single mother of a young child, used Facebook to start a campaign to urge other Saudi women to get into their cars and drive on June 17. Before that date, a YouTube clip of al-Sharif driving in the main city was posted online, with al-Huwaider sitting in the car with her. While al-Sharif was not stopped while filming that clip, the uploaded footage went viral and she was arrested based on the video. She had to publicly apologize and did not drive during the protest.
Although that campaign did not succeed, it did get plenty of women to either drive or contemplate it. It shook people up and it started conversations. Women seemed ready to take action. Stories about women forced to skip work and children forced to miss school because the driver couldn’t take them were not merely rumors: they happened to us. Another common story was of a lone woman standing at her parked car, holding the car keys and her dying child—as no man was able to come in time to take her to the emergency room. Many of the fathers would leave to work shortly after sunrise, an hour (or several) before children would need to be at school. School buses were private and expensive and not always an option (buses and private vans only operated if a sizable number of kids lived in the same neighborhood/compound and attended the same school).
Many drivers would threaten to quit if they didn’t get annual raises and often would get their way. Unregistered freelance drivers charged as they pleased and did not necessarily have a clean record, which raised several safety issues. The drivers knew that women needed them. In fact, this satirical Arabic-language YouTube clip (Preview) (Preview) illustrates this (it offers English subtitles). The female host starts by asking men if they foolishly thought that they were the most important man in the lives of their wives, sisters and mothers. The host’s “shocking” reveal is that they were not—the driver was. The clip then shows the female as she pleads with her lazy driver to take her around town.
On Saturday, another online Women2Drive campaign is planned. This time, word has spread fast on Facebook and Twitter. The campaign’s site was blocked in Saudi Arabia, after it collected more than 11,000 signatures of support in just a few days. The site is active abroad. The fact that it was blocked means that people of power are paying attention and not all of the attention has been negative. Current King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has not opposed women driving. But a male Saudi scholar, Sheikh Saleh al-Luhaidan, made waves in late September when he repeatedly said that women should not drive because it would affect fertility in women (among other allegations).
A friend of mine, Maha, started a blog themed around drivers in Saudi, from the female perspective. She is a 31 year-old working professional with an active social life in Jeddah and she started her blog to vent. “I was hoping to get people to share their own ridiculous stories, too. Misery loves company. But now, it’s like a diary. I keep track of what’s going on about this issue, too. I’ve found some support (online), some opposition, but not much. Women vent together all the time. I rarely sit in a gathering where someone doesn’t complain about her driver, or lack of one. I’ve kept my blog in English on purpose. Only English readers and expats read it, so I fly below the radar, so to speak.”
When I asked what the Oct. 26 campaign means to her, she said: “I think it’s mainly to raise awareness and erode taboos. It’s amazing how public opinion has swayed in the past 20 years. There used to be this fear of being labeled a “liberal,” or “radical” or even “heretic” if you voiced that you were pro-women driving. Now, even public, religious figures, like the head of the Hayaa (from the Al Ash-Sheikh family), has admitted on the record that Islam has nothing against women driving.”
Nonetheless, Maha is cautious about joining in this month’s protest. “Honestly, not sure yet. I’ve got to make sure my dad is in town. I have a supportive dad, in case I need to be bailed out.”
Maha also points out that there are security issues even with drivers. “I’ve had times where I felt unsafe (alone with a driver in a car), even as an adult. So most Saudi women still believe they need to ask permission from their father or husband to go out. As a kid, it makes sense—as an adult, no. But patriarchal interpretations of religious texts support this. Ideas like this can only change from within and in time.”

Read more: http://ideas.time.com/2013/10/25/forbidden-to-drive-a-saudi-woman-on-life-inside-the-kingdom/#ixzz2imz2oMlp

Saudi women refuse to put brakes on driving ban protest

Story from AlJazeera America - 10/25/2013 - Link is here, story below.

By Massoud Hayoun and Lisa De Bode
A petition in support of a Saudi woman’s right to drive has attracted more than 16,500 names in advance of a weekend campaign in which female motorists are expected to defy the kingdom’s rulers and take to the roads. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from operating a vehicle.
An estimated 100 women have already broken the ban in the run-up to the action sponsored by the Oct. 26 Women's Driving Campaign, activists say. Some have uploaded videos of themselves driving cars in cities across the kingdom. More are expected to join Saturday, but alleged threats by government officials compelled many activists to say the date is "symbolic" and opt for a continuous campaign instead.
But Saudi women aren't easily deterred.

"I'm scared, of course I am. It's not easy. But it's not the fear that's going to stop me," said Madeha al-Ajroush, a veteran Saudi women’s rights activist who told Al Jazeera she drove around Riyadh on Oct. 10 and plans to head out again this weekend.

On Thursday, Interior Ministry spokesman Gen. Mansour al-Turki warned that women drivers would be prosecuted. He told the AFP news agency, "It is known that women in Saudi are banned from driving and laws will be applied against violators and those who demonstrate in support (of this cause)."
"The Kingdom's laws prohibit activities disturbing the public peace and opening venues to sedition," the ministry's statement said.

On Friday, the petition was removed from the Internet in what appeared to be the result of a deliberate hack of the website. "Drop the leadership of Saudi women," read a message, which was changed throughout the day. But one member involved with the campaign told Al Jazeera that government officials ordered its server shut.

Activists deny they are breaking the law. There is no official legislation that prevents women from driving in Saudi Arabia, but they are prohibited from obtaining a license. In some areas, such as the compound of the oil giant Saudi Aramco in the eastern city of Dammam and remote Bedouin areas, women already drive.
"The whole campaign is not about protesting in a revolutionary way," al-Ajroush said. "It isn't about gathering. It's about women getting in their car and driving."

Moreover, activists note that the campaign is not centrally organized, making it harder for the authorities to target individuals involved.

Manal al-Sharif, a prominent women’s rights activist who spearheaded a driving campaign two years ago and was detained for nine days after posting a video of herself driving a car, told Al Jazeera that by not having a single leader, the campaign will prevent authorities and society at large from harassing one person.

"Having a leader diverts the attention from the movement itself. That person becomes a target for the government, people," she said. After the campaign, al-Sharif said she lost her job and custody of her son. She now lives in Dubai.

Repeating history

The right to drive has become a recurrent focal point for Saudi women campaigning for equal opportunities. The kingdom took a repressive bent in 1979 when, as a result of the Iranian revolution and the subsequent seizure of the Grand Mosque of Mecca, it enforced a more conservative stance.

In addition to being prohibited from driving, Saudi women need permission from a male guardian to travel, work or marry. They are also expected to wear a headscarf and an abaya, a black cloak covering the body.
In 1990, al-Ajroush joined a collective of 47 women who drove in Riyadh. As a result of that action she lost her job, she said. In 2011 she took to the roads again. She lost a job again, this time in Qassim, one of the kingdom's most conservative regions, where she worked as a consultant.

Despite the setbacks, al-Ajroush is determined not to give up.

"We waited for 23 years, and we never thought it would be that long," she said. "We're the only nation in the world (where women can't drive). Why is it taking that long?"

Andrew Hammond, a Middle East analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, told Al Jazeera he is pessimistic about the chance of change in the kingdom.

"The king (Abdullah) in many ways missed his chance," he said. "In the era of the Arab Spring everything has changed, and any concession … to people's demands is magnified in the rulers' minds as a dangerous precedent."

But in a country with the fastest-growing Twitter market in the world, social media offer a glimmer of hope.
"The world is talking about us on social media," al-Ajroush said. "My Facebook (page) is used for one reason, for women's issues, particularly the driving. When I was detained in 2011, before I got to the police station, I got several phone calls. They knew about me via Twitter."

An online media campaign has succeeded in attracting international attention to the Saudi women's plea. The "Honk for Saudi Women" movement urged U.S. supporters to post YouTube videos of themselves driving and honking car horns. Several activists staged drive-bys in front of the Saudi Embassy in Washington.
"It was great. It was very helpful," al-Sharif said. An official at the targeted embassy hung up the phone when asked by Al Jazeera about the driving campaign.

Aside from the grassroots action, three female legislators have taken up the issue at the Shura Council, the highest advisory organ to the king. Campaigners argue that the kingdom's financially strained middle class cannot continue to afford family drivers. There are also complaints that female passengers are often victims of harassment by hired drivers.

"It took us two months to prepare the study (on women's driving) which helped us come up with the recommendations on different issues which are usually supported with brief studies," Latifah al-Shalan, a Shura Council member, was reported in the Saudi Gazette as saying about her study in an interview with a Saudi news agency.

With the exception of two women who were briefly stopped by police, authorities have so far not intervened to stop any of the female drivers. But on Saturday, when many more are expected to challenge authorities from behind the wheel, that approach looks set to be tested.
With wire services

Saudi Arabia's Women driving ban: what makes this year's campaign different from previous protests

Article from Elan Magazine - a link to it is here, story below.
October 25, 2013 8:29 pm
By: Hyacinth Mascarenhas
It’s been more than two years since the last time women in Saudi Arabia campaigned for the right to drive in the conservative kingdom. Once again they are gearing up for a day of action to challenge the kingdom’s ban on female driving but with a unique campaign to mobilize change. On October 26, Saudi women are expected to mobilize to support women’s driving rights by driving cars in the country in what one press report dubbed as the “Saudi women’s spring.” The “crime” is punishable by detention, a fine or in the worst case scenario, imprisonment.

As the third major effort of its kind, the current campaign has already garnered significant support on the internet through an online petition that activists say has attracted more than 16,000 signatures. Despite strong opposition by the clerical establishment, efforts by the “October 26 driving for women” group to publicize the current campaign and the issues has been called one of the best-organized social campaigns seen in Saudi Arabia. Twitter, Facebook and other social media have also been used to get more women drivers on the road, garner support within and outside Saudi Arabia as well as circulate anonymous information about the campaign. The campaign also has an Instagram account for supporters to upload their driving videos, photos or “make a statement through art.”

In addition to support from the Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, who each issues a statement calling for change to the ban, the campaign also received wide-spread support from around the globe including Driving Training Inc in the United States who offered a virtual classroom for women to “experience instruction from their home via computer link up with a live instructor that includes real-time interaction.”

“This is an exciting opportunity for interaction with the beautiful, smart and capable women of Saudi Arabia seeking driver education,” said Susan Walling, owner and primary instructor of Driver Training Inc. “We are hoping to bring a powerful new way to learn safe driving skills in a fun, informative and interactive manner.”
Numerous women have already taken to the streets filming themselves driving around the kingdom and uploading the videos to YouTube with some showing passing male drivers giving them a thumbs-up in support. Many Saudi fathers are even teaching their daughters to drive. “People are positive that things are going to change,” said journalist Abeer al-Mishkhas. “They just hope it will come soon. The government says it is waiting to see if society is becoming more tolerant.”

“We are feeling a more positive environment. There is a general atmosphere of acceptance,” said Hatoon al-Fassi, a Women’s History professor at King Saud University in Riyadh. “The public is positive and the reactions on social media are beautiful.” According to al-Fassi, state newspapers have also published also published articles and opinion pieces almost daily on the debate – a virtually impossible feat just a few years ago. Al-Fassi, who also writes for the state-run daily Al-Riyadh, said she was barred from publishing an article on women’s driving two years ago and was forced to change the wording. This time around, she wrote without a single word changed.

Expected backlash

Although there has been significant support for the cause, one possible sign of the impact of the changes is the backlash by conservatives against the driving campaign.
Forcing women to rely on their husbands, brothers, fathers, sons or hired male help to carry out basic errands and travel, this unique restriction on women is not imposed by a specific traffic law, but religious edicts interpreted to mean women are not allowed to operate a vehicle. A spokesperson for the Saudi interior ministry warned women that firm measures may be taken against them if they participate in the campaign on Saturday.

Around 150 clerics and religious scholars rallied outside one of the Saudi king’s palaces on Tuesday protesting against women seeking the right to drive and some accusing the United States of being behind the calls to allow women to drive. Leading Saudi cleric Sheikh Saleh Al-Loheidan also caused a stir when he told Saudi news website sabq.org that a woman driving “could have a negative physiological impact…Medical studies show that it would automatically affect a woman’s ovaries and that it pushed the pelvis upward.”

Several Saudi women supporting the October 26th campaign have also said they received threatening phone calls from men claiming to represent the Interior Ministry warning them not to drive before, on or after Saturday. Last month, 32-year-old Saudi Manal Al Sharif was detained for two weeks after driving and posting a video of herself defying the driving ban on the internet.

Eman Al Nafjan, a female Saudi blogger who also was arrested by police for filming a female driver breaking the ban last month argued that ‘society’ should no longer be an excuse for the ban on women driving. She did, however, acknowledge that patriarchy is a fundamental issue. “If there was one word to describe what it is like to be a Saudi woman, it would be the word patronizing…No matter how long you live, you remain a minor in the eyes of the government,” said Al Nafjan.

Signs of change

Although previous campaigns have fizzled out in the past, there have been a string of firsts for the conservative kingdom since the last driving ban protest which campaigners argue is a sign that public attitudes are changing and could pave the way for a removal of the ban.

Women have been granted the right to vote and run in the 2015 municipal elections. Thirty women who were given seats on Saudi Arabia’s influential Shoura Council – an advisory body to the kingdom and the government – also challenged the driving ban and recommended that the Transport Ministry make preparations to allow women to drive. A powerful ad campaign launched earlier this year resulted in a law against domestic violence in the kingdom. Strides were also made in sports as well when two Saudi female athletes competed in last year’s Olympics – a first for a country that does not provide physical education for girls in public schools and sports centers are almost entirely for men.

Campaigners hope these reforms paired with enormous domestic and international support on the internet and through social media have readied the kingdom for change and will result in big numbers tomorrow when women get behind the wheel again.

Writer Maha al-Aqeel, who is also planning to take her Mazda out for a spin tomorrow sees the issue as the “thin end of a wedge of reform in Saudi Arabia.”

“Driving is such a visible and symbolic thing,” said al-Aqeel. “It’s not like women on the shura council – you cannot see that and you cannot see advances for women in the workplace. Many conservatives feel that if women get the right to drive then that’s it, the last bastion of male control will fall. I think it should lead to other changes. That’s why those who oppose it are so vehement. And that’s why the government is treading so carefully. It does not want to cause a big uproar.”

Here are some interesting tweets we found for and against the campaign:

Taxi firms fear losing revenue if women drive

Many taxi firms will close down if women are allowed to drive their own cars,” said Sayed.
First news story from Saudi Arabia on October 26, 2013. This one from the Arab News by Ibrahim Nafee. You can find the link here, and the story is below.

Why Saudi Arabia can't ban women from driving forever

Mohammed Jamjoom writes on October 25, 2013 - for CNN. A link to the story is here, and it's pasted below.

-- There's something extraordinary happening in Saudi Arabia right now. I should know -- you see, I was born there, lived there half my life, speak the language and understand the customs. Lately, I'm both amazed at and humbled by what I'm seeing: Extremely brave Saudi women, more driven than ever to change their society, despite the sad fact that they still aren't allowed to drive.

And while it's true there's no formal law that bans females from getting behind the wheel in the ultra-conservative kingdom, it is also by no means a stretch to say they are, indeed, prohibited from doing so. Unfortunately, that's just the way it's always been in a society where religious edicts are often interpreted to mean it is illegal for women to drive.
I've reported on this subject for years and must admit, it's a personal one for me. Some of my earliest memories entail trying to figure out why my American mother would always drive me around Oklahoma City, where we spent our summers, but could never take me around Jeddah, where we lived the rest of the year.
To be honest, I only began pondering that mystery at the age of four on the days when my Saudi father was out of town on business, our driver was off, and I wanted ice cream. In the U.S., it was easy for my mom and I to hop in her car and go grab a banana split. What I wanted to know was why it was such a big deal in Saudi Arabia. Now, as a new online campaign urging Saudi women to defy their country's driving ban kicks into high gear, I find myself reflecting on how much the issue has impacted my life.

Much of it goes back to one brutally hot afternoon when I was 6 years old, living in Jeddah, playing in the front yard -- completely startled seeing my 15-year-old neighbor sneaking out of her house dressed like her Saudi father. She wasn't just wearing his clothes, she'd drawn a moustache on her face and was hoisting his car keys too.

Her mission was simple but dangerous: Take her dad's car for a spin around the neighborhood as he napped. In any other country, a simple act of rebellion. In Saudi Arabia, one that can, and has, gotten women arrested.

A few days ago, as we were filming our latest report on the women's driving campaign, I asked prominent Saudi journalist Buthaina Al-Nasr if she'd ever done anything similar.

Laughing at the memory, she admitted how, once, at the age of 14, she'd borrowed her older brother's car and taken it for a spin around the farm, far from the traffic of the city and any of its police.

Buthaina went on, describing how much she and her female friends longed to drive cars. She explained how they also wanted to ride bikes, or even just simply walk around "freely" - other activities for which Saudi women can face severe disapproval. There was really only one solution.

"We'd dress up like men," explained Buthaina, "like boys, and we'd go around and it felt fun."
Her anecdote made me smile even as it struck me as terribly sad. You see, "fun" is something that many of my female Saudi relatives told me over and over again they needed a lot more of.

It was the main reason my neighbor took her dad's car for that joyride -- which she'd been able to do without getting caught. To me, seeing how absolutely exhilarating the experience had been for her, she'd become a hero. A couple of days later, I asked her when she'd do it again. A funny look appeared on her face.

"I don't know. I'm not sure what the point is," she told me. "It'll just make me want to keep driving more and more. I shouldn't want that."

It took me a long time to finally understand. She'd had a small but wonderful taste of fun and freedom, one she felt most Saudi women would never get. That made it hard to deal with, harder still for her to do it again. For her, it ended up being more bitter than sweet.

In Saudi Arabia, women aren't simply kept from obtaining drivers' licenses. No, they must contend with many more restrictions. The country's mandatory guardianship system means women cannot legally be responsible for their own affairs. As such, a growing number of voices, both male and female, are calling for those laws to be repealed.

Author Abdullah Al-Alami, one of the most prominent Saudi men supporting the women's new driving campaign, is among them.

"There is a group of ultraconservatives here who will try to do anything and everything to prevent women from exercising their rights," Al-Alami told me. "Be it driving, going to school, working, traveling for that matter, receiving medical care. Many men that I know, we feel that it is crucial for us to support women who do this."

During my formative years, I was lucky -- I got to spend lots of time with very strong, independent, assertive women. My American mother, Saudi aunts and female cousins - they discussed women's rights all the time. I listened to countless conversations where it was decided how it would be impossible for Saudi Arabia to forever bar women from driving.

They said the reasons were numerous: that it didn't make sense economically; that it was too much of a burden on families to hire drivers; that Saudi society was advancing.

And then there was the horror story recounted by my aunt about the woman who lived down the street from her -- the woman whose husband was at work, whose driver was running an errand, whose child had been injured. There was no way for her to get him to the hospital in time.

The laws will have to change, they'd say. In five to 10 years, they insisted, women would, no doubt, be allowed to drive. I first heard that refrain 33 years ago, in 1980, before my parents and I moved to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's capital.

I've been hearing it ever since. It wasn't until 1991 that I thought the time might have finally come. That's when 47 women protested the prohibition by driving through the streets of Riyadh. It was scandalous -- dozens of the women were detained, banned from travel and suspended from their workplaces.

A second ray of hope appeared in May 2011, when prominent women's rights activist Manal Al-Sharif uploaded to YouTube a video of herself driving in Saudi Arabia. As a result, she spent nine days in jail. But on June 17, dozens of women across Saudi Arabia, emboldened and inspired by her ordeal, went ahead, risked punishment and participated in the "Women2Drive" campaign -- they didn't just drive around, they also filmed and uploaded videos of themselves doing so. Still the laws did not change.

And now, the latest iteration is at hand. The October 26 Women's Driving Campaign has so far garnered more than 16,000 signatures on its online petition, but as it turns out, women aren't waiting until October 26. Many have already gone out, taken videos, posted them online. It's incredible to see.

Buthaina Al-Nasr is an active supporter of the campaign. She lives in Lebanon now but talked to me at length about why the Saudi government needs to finally lift the ban -- after all, it is the last country in the world that does not allow women to drive.

After driving her eight-year-old son Hisham to school, she told me a bit more about how much she'd love to be able to do the same in Saudi Arabia. She then shared a recurring daydream she has about being able to drive a car in her home country while wearing a dress -- not while dressed up like her father or brother.

"It's a silly daydream," she told me, "but that's a fact. It's the reality of my society."

Then she added, "I mean the daydream of a young girl should be how to get to the moon ... Not driving a car."

Saudi women drop plans for 'drive-in' after legal threats

This from AFP via Gulf News, printed October 25, 2013. A link to the story is here, and the story is below.

Dubai: Activists pressing for an end to Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving have dropped plans to hold a “drive-in” Saturday after threats of legal action against anyone getting behind the wheel.
Instead, rather than making the date of October 26 a symbolic one, they have called for an open-ended campaign.

“Out of caution and respect for the interior ministry’s warnings ... we are asking women not to drive tomorrow and to change the initiative from an October 26 campaign to an open driving campaign,” activist Najla Al Hariri said on Friday.

Several women said they had received telephone calls from the ministry, which openly warned on Thursday of measures against activists who chose to participate, asking them to promise not to drive on Saturday.

Ministry spokesman General Mansur Al Turki said: “It is known that women in Saudi are banned from driving and laws will be applied against violators and those who demonstrate in support” of this cause.
On Wednesday, the ministry said it would crack down against anyone who attempts to “disturb public peace” by congregating or marching “under the pretext of an alleged day of female driving.”
In remarks to the Al Hayat daily published on Friday, Turki even warned against supporting the campaign online.

When asked what would happen to those who did, Turki said legal measures will be taken “against whoever violates the anti-cyber crimes law,” an offence punishable by up to five years in prison in the kingdom.
Activists have repeatedly insisted throughout their campaign that no demonstrations would be held in the country, which officially bans public gatherings.

A campaign website, where an online petition amassed more than 16,000 signatures before authorities blocked it two weeks later, was hacked on Friday.

“Drop the leadership of Saudi women,” read a cryptic message in English posted on the website, http://www.oct26driving.com.

Referring to Saturday, blogger Eman Nafjan said “the date was only symbolic, and women have begun driving before and will continue to drive after October 26.”

Over the past two weeks, videos posted online have shown women already driving in Saudi Arabia.
Women who have defied the law in the past have run into trouble with the authorities and been harassed by compatriots.

In 1990, authorities stopped 47 women who got behind the wheel in a demonstration against the driving ban
In 2011, activist Manal Al Sharif, one of the organisers of this Saturday’s campaign, was arrested and held nine days for posting online a video of herself behind the wheel.

That year Saudi police arrested a number of women who defied the driving ban and forced them to sign a pledge not to drive again.

Saudi women are forced to cover from head to toe and need permission from a male guardian to travel, work and marry.

The Saudi Women Driving Campaign in Perspective

Analysis from the Washington Institute about the women driving issue. A link to the story is here,  and it's pasted in below.

Lori Plotkin Boghardt 
Also available in العربية
October 15, 2013
Turnout for the Saudi women drivers demonstration planned for late October will help gauge public interest in mobilizing for reforms in the kingdom.

On October 26, Saudi women are expected to answer their sisters' call to support women’s driving rights by driving cars in the kingdom -- an act that can lead to detention, a fine, and in the worst case scenario, imprisonment. The campaign has garnered significant support on the internet, with an online petition attracting approximately 15,000 signatures in three weeks. Still, it's unclear if the actual demonstration will attract only dozens of participants like a similar campaign in June 2011, or if it will draw larger numbers due to an appetite among Saudis to mobilize for change, as reflected in social media forums.


The Saudi ban on women drivers forces women to rely on their husbands, brothers, fathers, sons, and hired male help to take their children to school, run basic errands, and travel to and from jobs if they work. Women’s driving rights constitute one of only a handful of issues that Saudis have come out to the streets to support since the start of the Arab uprisings in early 2011.

The current campaign represents the third major effort of its kind in the kingdom in twenty-three years. On June 17, 2011, approximately fifty women drove in cities across the kingdom as part of the Women2Drive campaign following the arrest and imprisonment of a Saudi women’s rights activist who had posted a video of herself driving on YouTube. More than two decades earlier, on November 6, 1990, forty-seven women drove through Riyadh as part of a similar campaign, only to be arrested and in some cases suspended from their jobs and banned from travel.

The September 21 launch of the current campaign is linked to statements made by a senior official of the Saudi Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (a.k.a. the religious police). According to an article in the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat, the official instructed the religious police not to pursue and detain women drivers, and maintained that no law existed that gave them the mandate to do so. This echoed a similar statement from Saudi justice minister Muhammad al-Isa in April 2013 regarding the absence of a constitutional or regulatory text on the issue of women driving. While the chief of the religious police, Abd al-Latif al-Sheikh, denied that instructions were issued not to detain women drivers, he also commented that sharia, by which the kingdom is governed, "does not have a text forbidding women from driving."


Women’s driving rights appear to have a wider support base in the country than several other concerns that have compelled Saudis to take to the streets since 2011. In a Gallup survey from 2007 -- several years before the Arab uprisings inspired new ways of approaching basic rights -- 66 percent of Saudi women and 55 percent of Saudi men expressed the belief that women should be allowed to drive. On October 8 of this year, three female members of the exclusive Saudi Shura Council recommended that the council "recognize the rights of women to drive a car."

Participation in women's driving demonstrations has transcended the country's deep Sunni-Shiite divide. In June 2011, both Sunni and Shiite women drove -- and later this month, members of both sects are expected to drive -- across the kingdom in support of the campaign. This contrasts with the explicitly Shiite character of the most numerous and deadly protests since early 2011 in the Shiite-majority Eastern Province. Saudi Shiites make up 10-15 percent of the country's citizen population.

Women's driving rights also may be more attractive to a wider swath of Saudis as a cause than the issue that has produced the most prominent nationwide protests since early 2011: political prisoners. The kingdom's thousands of political detainees include both Shiites and Sunnis, with many of the latter rounded up during security sweeps in the mid-2000s when the country faced its own internal threat from al-Qaeda-linked terrorists. As a result, demonstrations calling for their trial or release have crossed Sunni and Shiite lines. However, the issue of political prisoners has not gained traction with many Saudis partly because of the prisoners’ association with terrorism.

Of course, support for women's driving rights does not necessarily translate into participation in actual rights campaigns, as the June 2011 experience indicated. Apparent public support for the issue might be belied by a limited demonstration on October 26.


The campaign faces tough odds for a change in national policy. Saudi authorities have shown their hand by blocking access to the original campaign website on September 29, and then its mirror website on October 7. The now infamous assertion by Saudi cleric Saleh al-Loheidan on September 27 that driving affects women's ovaries and results in children with clinical disorders is unusual in its medical specificity, but it underscores conservative clerical opposition to lifting the ban.

In many of the country's rural areas, Saudi women drive without issue. The religious police may temporarily turn a blind eye to women drivers in urban areas, but eventually an active decision for or against licensing women will need to be made, especially if an increasing number of women get behind the wheel.


Many Saudis seem hungry for change. As noted, this is particularly evident in social media channels, where Saudis routinely decry economic, social, and political conditions in the kingdom. Yet, for the most part, this apparent appetite for reform has not moved in substantive ways from the internet to off-line activity beyond the Shiite-majority east of the country.

It is in this context that the driving campaign should also be measured simply by its size and nature. The two previous driving demonstrations in the country, in November 1990 and June 2011, each compelled fifty or so women to get behind the wheel. If similar numbers participate this time around, we can say that Saudi eagerness to mobilize for change on this issue and maybe others has not evolved much in the last couple of years. This would be the case especially in the absence of warnings about the severe consequences of participating in the campaign and preemptive security actions by Saudi authorities.

A significant increase in the demonstration size or the numbers of Saudi women getting behind the wheel before or after October 26, however, could indicate expanding interest by Saudis in mobilizing for change in the highly pressurized and tumultuous regional environment. Some Saudi women have posted videos on YouTube of themselves driving cars, and some Saudi men have offered support for the campaign on YouTube and Twitter over the past weeks, suggesting this expanded interest is a possibility.


The women's driving campaign comes at a time of strain in U.S.-Saudi relations related to differences over involvement in Syria's civil war, support for Egypt's interim government, and shifting relations with Iran. The challenges of U.S. diplomacy regarding the issue of women's driving rights in the kingdom were highlighted in June 2011 when U.S. secretary of state Hillary Clinton expressed public support for the campaign in complement to American "quiet diplomacy" on the issue. In London this past Friday, October 11, Clinton restated her support for women's driving rights in the context of the current campaign. Saudi officials consistently reject foreign interference in reform debates and other internal affairs.

There are indications that King Abdullah -- who is believed to be strongly influenced by his women's rights promoting daughter, Princess Adila bint Abdullah al-Saud -- may favor lifting the ban but is mindful of adamant opposition to such a move by the Saudi clerical establishment. If this is really his view, then Washington's argument over women's driving rights would be with Saudi clerics, not the Saudi government.

Lori Plotkin Boghardt is a fellow in Gulf politics at The Washington Institute.

Saudi Arabia Warns Online Backers of Women Drivers

Story by ABDULLAH AL-SHIHRI Associated Press - filed October 25, 2013 A link to the story is here, and the story is pasted in below.

Saudi officials stepped up warnings on Friday over plans by women to challenge the male-only driving rules in the ultraconservative kingdom, saying that even online support for the protest could bring arrest.

The warnings came on the eve of the planned protest by Saudi women activists who have obtained driver's licenses abroad. The Internet has been a key tool in reaching out to international media and organizing the demonstration, similar to one staged last year by a small group of women.

Though no specific Saudi law bans women from driving, the rules are enforced by Saudi clerics who hold far-reaching influence over the ruling monarchy and give it political legitimacy.

Mention of the strict Saudi laws against online political dissent significantly broadens the possible fallout from the expected campaign by Saudi women, who have pledged to get behind the wheel on Saturday in defiance of Saudi traditions enforced by the nation's powerful Islamic religious establishment.

Friday's edition of the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat quotes Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Turki al-Faisal as saying cyber-laws could apply to anyone supporting the women driving campaign.
Conviction can bring up to five-year prison sentences and stiff fines, the article quoted a Saudi consultant on cyber laws, Marwan al-Ruwqi.

Saudi Arabia has adopted some reforms in recent years, including allowing women to sit on the national advisory council and a decision by King Abdullah to permit women to vote and run in municipal elections in 2015.

But the driving ban appears to retain the backing of senior clerics, who also refuse to amend codes such as requiring women to obtain a male guardian's approval to travel.

Al-Faisal, the ministry spokesman, was quoted as saying the cyber-dissident law "will be applied against violators" while other measures will be taken against "those who gather to support" the planned protest.
On Wednesday, he warned of police crackdowns against "disturbing public order." The statement was issued after about 150 clerics and religious scholars protested outside a royal palace, saying Saudi authorities were doing nothing to stop women flouting the ban.

Some of the leaders of the campaign said they received phone calls from authorities emphasizing the warnings.

The London-based rights group Amnesty International said the main website of the women driving effort, oct26driving.org, was blocked early Friday and replaced with the message: "Drop the leadership of Saudi women."

The women activists still plan to defy the driving ban, despite having their campaign website hacked and receiving repeated threats from the authorities to thwart the effort, Amnesty said.

"Saudi Arabian authorities use the excuse that society at large is behind the ban and claim that the law does not discriminate against women. But at the same time they continue to harass and intimidate women activists," said Said Boumedouha, acting director of Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa Program.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the U.S. supports "the full inclusion of women in Saudi society."

"That would, of course, include driving," she said.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Saudi authorities warn of punishment for women drivers

An October 24, 2013 story from Reuters via the Chicago Tribune. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted below.

RIYADH (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry has contacted organizers of a campaign to end the ban on women driving and told them they will be punished if they go on defying the male-only road rules, some of the campaign leaders said on Thursday.

The women organizing the campaign have been posting online footage of themselves driving in Saudi cities, and have called on Saudi women with foreign driving licenses to get behind the wheel on Saturday.

The campaigners hope to take advantage of the ambiguous nature of the kingdom's ban on women driving, which is not explicitly enshrined in either the kingdom's Islamic sharia law or its traffic code.

Saudi Arabia frequently earns bad international publicity over the issue, but any change in the effective ban on women driving might ignite the wrath of religious hardliners.

On Wednesday the Interior Ministry issued a statement reiterating that it was illegal for women to drive, but the authorities now appear to be stepping up their efforts to quash the campaign by individually contacting women involved.

"He said he was calling on behalf of (Interior Minister) Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and that I and any other woman should not drive and if we are caught we will be punished," said one of the campaign organizers.

The woman said she now planned not to drive on Saturday, although she still supported the campaign and had previously filmed herself behind the wheel in the city.

Another woman involved in the campaign, who also asked to remain anonymous, said she still planned to go ahead.

The Interior Ministry telephone calls follow a small protest by a group of conservative clerics demanding government action against the women. One of them, Sheikh Nasser al-Omar, described the campaign as a "conspiracy".

A ministry spokesman could not immediately be reached to confirm that the body had contacted the women.

Women who have driven in the past have often been charged with the relatively minor offence of driving without a valid Saudi license, which are not issued to women in the kingdom.

But some have also been charged with more serious offences, such as disturbing public order or staging political protests, which are illegal in the absolute monarchy.

The campaigners say that by driving on Saturday they will not be staging a political protest, as they have not asked women to drive together in groups or to congregate in one place, even if they are in violation of traffic rules.


"The concerned authorities will enforce the law against all the violators with firmness and force," said Wednesday's Interior Ministry statement.

The ministry's spokesman, Major-General Mansour Turki, told Reuters the statement applied to women driving individually as well as in groups and that it was not meant to refer only to Saturday, but to women driving at any time.

He said it also would apply to protests by groups opposed to women driving. Turki said the prosecution service would decide whether to charge women drivers with traffic violations or more serious offences.

Officials have often in the past said the driving ban is in place because Saudi society wants it there. Supporters of Saturday's campaign say they want to show by driving without provoking public anger that society has changed.

They point to a recent move by some women in the kingdom's Shoura Council, a quasi-parliament appointed by the king to advise on policy, to challenge the ban, and to Saudi newspaper columns that argue women should be able to drive.

"The government now is in an odd position. They aren't against women driving and yet they're preventing women driving. It's very awkward to be in this position," said Khalid al-Dakhil, a Saudi political science professor and columnist for the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat.

(Reporting By Angus McDowall; editing by Sami Aboudi and Alistair Lyon)

No driving licences for women

On October 25, 2013, Rima al-Mukhtar of the English language daily filed this report. A link to the story is here, and the text is below.
DARING TO DRIVE: Saudi women head to a driving school to apply for licenses in this image taken from a video recorded on Oct. 22.

Several Saudi women who applied for driving licenses at Dallah Driving School in Jeddah had their applications rejected on Thursday by traffic officials.

Naila Attar, a Saudi businesswoman, went with two friends to apply for licenses this week at the school. She said it was a futile situation for local women, but that they had some hope that officials would grant them the licenses.

“We have done our homework and studied for the exam. We’ve learned everything there is to know about driving. We actually have licenses from other countries but want the Saudi one too,” she said.

Attar was surprised when she saw other women at the driving school also applying for licenses. “When we walked in, we saw a waiting area for women. We asked the front desk to give us the license applications but they kept asking for our drivers. When we said the applications were for us, they started laughing,” she said.
Saudi women have been going in small groups to apply for licenses throughout the week.

Fatima Moussalli, a businesswoman, was one of the women who applied Wednesday with two friends. “As soon as we walked in, they knew why we were there because other ladies had applied earlier in the week,” she said. “An employee told us that there was no way we could obtain Saudi driving licenses for the time being. He advised us to seek an explanation from the Ministry of Interior,” she said.

Hanaa Humaidan, another Saudi businesswoman who applied, said: “We wanted to apply the legal way because we are a country that respects the law. At the school, an official told us that they would only accept applications once the Ministry of Interior gives the green light,” she said.

“I learned a lot about this issue just by sitting with him for a short while. He also informed us that if we had a driving license from another GCC country, it would be easier for us to get a Saudi one without tests once it is allowed,” she said.

Three women videotaped themselves driving in Jeddah to the driving school to apply for licenses on Oct. 22. In the short video, the women said an official told them that they had not received an order from the Ministry of Interior to obtain licenses.

Um Mohannad was videotaped saying that women are being arrested for not having licenses as opposed to driving illegally, but are refused licenses upon application.

Saudi Women Go For A Spin In Latest Challenge To Driving Ban

Deborah Amos of National Public Radio in the U.S. wrote this story that aired on October 24, 2013 on the program, All Things Considered. The audio version can be found at the link - which is here. And the story is pasted in below.

A woman drives a car in Saudi Arabia on Sunday. Saudi Arabia is the only country where women are barred from driving, but activists have launched a renewed protest and are urging women to drive on Saturday.
A woman drives a car in Saudi Arabia on Sunday. Saudi Arabia is the only country where women are barred from driving, but activists have launched a renewed protest and are urging women to drive on Saturday. Photo by Faisal Al Nasser/Reuters/Landov

Activists in Saudi Arabia tried once, they tried again and now they're making a third challenge to the kingdom's long-standing ban on female drivers.

Some women have recently made short drives, posting videos on social media sites, and many more are planning to get behind the wheel on Saturday.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that effectively prohibits women from driving, a ban supported by conservative clerics. While there is no law formally banning female drivers, the government does not give them licenses.

Government authorities seem to be more lenient these days, however.

Sara Hussein, 32, says it's time to claim the right to drive.

"Think back in history — Rosa Parks was the only person who sat down on the bus, wasn't she? And then it started to happen gradually," Hussein says. "It does have to start with the few brave people who are willing to risk whatever there is to risk."

Hussein's mother, Aziza al-Yousef, who is in her 50s and teaches computer science at King Saud University, is a key organizer of the drive-in. Activists set Saturday as a date for a national road rally, but also encouraged women to just get behind the wheel any time.

"We are saying, 'Just go ahead and drive now,' " says al-Yousef. "I know women started driving. The messages are in the hundreds. We are counting the videotapes."

Activists have been challenging Saudi Arabia's ban on female drivers by taking to the road and posting videos. Here is one of what organizers say are 100 videos posted so far.The mother and daughter say the videos are coming from across the kingdom and even show one man teaching his wife and sister to drive.

Relying On Male Drivers

Saudi Arabia was made for driving, with wide open spaces and cheap gas. The sprawling capital, Riyadh, is as big as Los Angeles, with no dependable public transportation.

Women must rely on men to drive them around. They may be male relatives or drivers who are part of the country's imported labor. But this is expensive and an intrusion into their lives, many women say.
As the country changes bit by bit, the prohibition on female drivers can contradict other efforts by the government. For example, the government is urging private companies to hire more women. It is hard to see how that can happen unless women can drive to work, Hussein says.

"No one has been given orders from higher up" to arrest female drivers, she adds.

Al-Yousef says this campaign, the third challenge to the driving ban, has learned from past mistakes.
In 1990, 47 women made the first attempt to challenge the ban. They all lost their jobs, were prohibited from traveling for years, and were shunned for their defiance.

The next challenge came in 2011, when activists Maha al-Qatani was the first Saudi woman to get a traffic ticket. The campaign fizzled after some women were jailed for driving. But soon after, King Abdullah said women could vote in local elections, and 30 women were appointed to the 150-member Shura Council, an advisory body to the king.

Going For A Spin

Al-Yousef — who has an international driver's license — says she and other drivers don't want to break laws aside from the one banning driving. She now takes a short drive every day and invites me to join her for a cruise around the capital. We get in the front, her male driver climbs in the back, and we take to the road.

"I need people to see that it is normal; we have to let people accept it," al-Yousef says. "It doesn't mean anything if you drive only one day."

The afternoon traffic is so heavy that nobody notices two women in the front seat of a car. Then we approach a police station.

"Let's see what their reaction is," she says. "You watch it; it's going to be on your right."

She says the head of the national police stated publicly that his officers would not arrest women for driving. But they will ticket those without a license, which is impossible for a woman to get here. Al-Yousef drives like a pro. She learned while attending a university in the U.S. The only time she shows excitement is when another activist calls her.

"I am driving!" she announces with a distinct rise in her voice.

We end our drive at her front door, where her husband is waiting to meet her.

"Hello, I'm a coward. How do you do," her husband, Moisen al-Haydar, says with a laugh.
Al-Haydar says he's given up driving. He's proud of his wife for braving Riyadh's hectic traffic. He supports her driving campaign, but he's worried, too.

Threats Against Activists
There have been online threats and insults against activists. Al-Yousef filed a case this week against the attackers in court. Also this week, conservative clerics urged King Abdullah to stop Saturday's drive-in, but the king did not meet with the complaining clerics.

Al-Yousef sweeps away her husband's concerns and sits down to check the latest driving videos.
"We've had four today and we are now up to 100 videos," she says as she turns up the volume on the latest driving demonstration.

Al-Yousef translates the Arabic in the video: "She says this is a very positive movement; Saudi ladies should have the choice to drive her own car. And she named the tape, 'Yes, we can.' "

The final decision is up to the king, who has said he believes women have the right to drive, but hasn't said when.