Saudi Arabia, whose very existence is due to an 18th century alliance between Abdul Wahab (founder of Wahabism) and Mohammed Ibn Saud ( a minor tribal chieftain near Dariayah), and which continues to support and export this extremely conservative brand of Islam, is the only country in the world to ban women from driving. [Whoah! Way too close to men-not-related!]
There have been public demonstrations of women’s right to drive from as early as 1990, rising in a small flurry in 200o — 2001. Perhaps the Arab Spring, celebrated so widely — but not in Saudi Arabia– will give more wheels to the movement this time.
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — The government of Saudi Arabia moved swiftly to extinguish a budding protest movement of women claiming the right to drive, a campaign inspired by uprisings across the Arab world demanding new freedoms but at risk Monday of foundering
Manal al-Sharif, 32, one of the campaign organizers, was detained Sunday in the eastern city of Dammam for up to five days on charges of disturbing public order and inciting public opinion by twice driving in a bid to press her cause, said her lawyer, Adnan al-Saleh.
Ms. Sharif was arrested after two much-publicized drives last week to highlight the Facebook and Twitter campaigns she helped organize to encourage women across Saudi Arabia to participate in a collective protest scheduled for June 17.
The campaigns, which had attracted thousands of supporters — more than 12,000 on the Facebook page — have been blocked in the kingdom.
My favorite non-violent protest of all time has to be the threat by women to breast feed their chauffeurs to establish a proper “maternal bond” with them, and avoid accusations of mingling with male non-family members.
Many were stunned when Saudi cleric Sheik Abdel Mohsen Obeikan recently issued afatwa, or Islamic ruling, calling on women to give breast milk to their male colleagues or men they come into regular contact with so as to avoid illicit mixing between the sexes.
But a group of Saudi women has taken the controversial decree a step further in a new campaign to gain the right to drive in the ultra-conservative kingdom, media reports say.
If they’re not granted the right to drive, the women are threatening to breastfeed their drivers to establish a symbolic maternal bond.
“Is this is all that is left to us to do: to give our breasts to the foreign drivers?” a Saudi woman named Fatima Shammary was quoted as saying by Gulf News
Manal al-Sharif, one of the organizers of an online campaign encouraging Saudi women to drive en masse on June 17, was arrested on Sunday, days after she posted video of herself flouting the kingdom’s ban on female drivers on YouTube. Traces of Ms. Sharif’s campaign also started to disappear from the Web.
Her online message about the June 17 protest have also been copied, and were featured in news reports, like this one from Al Jazeera, that cannot be so easily deleted:
Saudi bloggers, like Ms. Nafjan, have also posted summaries of Ms. Sharif’s instructions to women who want to take part in the protest on June 17, advising them of the following five rules:
1. There will be no gathering or demonstrations. Each woman that wants to participate should just get in her car and go about her daily business without [her] driver.
2. Only women who have valid driving licenses from other countries are to drive.
3. Volunteers will teach other women to drive until the government sets up an official system for women to obtain local driving licenses.
4. Everyone should drive with their safety belts on and drive carefully.
5. Women who drive are encouraged to videotape it and upload it to YouTube.
Like so many major movements this one began with a non-activist woman, Najal Sharif, who simply had a practical problem: her driver had quit and she had to get her son to school.
RIYADH: When Najla’s driver unexpectedly turned in the keys and resigned, the 45-year-old Saudi housewife was left with a dilemma: Her son had to get to school, there were errands to be done, and there was nobody around to drive her. So she got behind the wheel of the family car and took her son to school.
Did the world come to an end? Did society erupt in disapproval? Was she wrenched from the vehicle by a religious cop and sent back to her guardian for a lecture on morals?
No. In fact, with the exception of some looks of surprise, and a few thumb’s up of approval, Najla managed to get her son to school and pick up groceries on the way home, just as countless women do the world over. It was, in the end, a banal experience.
“It is an unwanted feeling to be restrained and helpless,” she told Arab News by phone. “I have three driver’s licenses: two from Arab countries and an international one.”
Honk if you support women drivers!
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