Monday, December 3, 2012

Women will be a lot safer driving themselves

Excellent opinion piece in today's Saudi Gazette (originally in Al-Jazira) by Dr. Thurayyah Al-Aredh. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted below.

by Dr. Thurayyah Al-Aredh

THE other evening we were invited to a party in Bahrain by a Saudi friend who shuttles between both countries. When we arrived at the venue, our host was not there to receive us. After a long wait he arrived visibly worried and upset.

He explained to us that the foreign driver who was driving his wife and kids was apprehended by the Saudi authorities on King Fahd Causeway for trying to smuggle some bottles of whisky. He said he had to go to the causeway to drive his family back home.

I have to admit that this is not the first time I hear about the arrest of a family driver on the causeway for smuggling of liquor. Personally I have been without a driver for about a whole year now after we have decided not to bring back our Filipino driver because of his numerous violations and stealing of our household goods.

My husband and my son are working in Riyadh. We are away from each other but I am certain that living away from the family is somewhat easier than living without a car.

The sad side of the story is that I am a holder of a driving license which I acquired while I was a university student abroad. I have not been able to use this driving license since I returned home.

Three decades have passed with me waiting hopelessly for the Interior Ministry to reach a decision allowing women to drive. Such a decision will rid us of the need to employ foreign drivers and live under their mercy. Women driving cars is not a fashion trend or an ostentatious phenomenon but a real and pressing need.

The faltering relationship between the importers of workers and the foreign manpower themselves has its adverse effects deepening the tension in our families and homes. The two sides have been exchanging accusations that included lies and distorted facts. These accusations culminate in defamation and financial loss.

Foreign manpower has been accused of all vices including child abuse, physical violence, sorcery, brewing and smuggling of alcohol and murder. On their part, the foreign workers have been accusing their sponsors of exploiting them, not paying their salaries and even physically abusing them.

I often ask myself: What makes us import foreign house helps? Can’t we ever do without them? Are there no solutions except for recruitment with all its evils?

It is quite justifiable to import foreign manpower to work in the advanced technological fields but to bring them to work in our homes and live among our families is not understandable. We should seek alternate solutions to our needs other than recruitment.

The importing of drivers has become more perilous than the recruitment of housemaids. As soon as the drivers know our streets, they will not fail to find those who will give them all kinds of criminal advice.

Time has come to get rid of the millions of the foreign drivers in our country. Let the Saudi women drive and the problem will be solved forever. By driving our own cars we will save a lot of resources for the economy. We will be a lot safer as well and will sleep in peace and security.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A fresh perspective on women drivers

Columnist Tariq A. Al Maeena writes an interesting op-ed in the Gulf News - a water conservation justification for changing the law in Saudi Arabia to allow women to drive. The story is pasted below and a link to it is here.

By Tariq A. Al Maeena - December 1, 2012 - Jeddah -

By giving women the right to drive, Saudi Arabia can conserve water consumed by the approximately million expatriate drivers and reduce the skyrocketing costs of desalination
  • Image Credit: Luis Vazquez
The UAE has become a magnet for the rest of the Gulf Cooperation Council states. Tourists have been flocking in by the hundreds of thousands. The bulk of the visitors from the Arabian peninsula in recent times have been from Saudi Arabia. And they don’t just visit only once. Families make the bulk of visitors, but there are also a sizeable number of single males and females who venture to the UAE on their own.

What is it that attracts these visitors from a nearby country? It is certainly not the weather as there are no significant climatic differences between the two countries. Nor is there a dramatic change in topography that may induce some to visit. Shops and restaurants are not much different in both countries. Yet in the balance of travel, visitors from the Saudi side most likely outnumber their UAE counterparts by 10 to 1.

There are significant reasons then that would attract someone to make the trip from Saudi Arabia to the UAE. The first is that they find the UAE more similar than different from their own culture. And besides a host of other reasons such as world class entertainment, there is the compelling draw of a country that places no unjustified restrictions on its women.

Suzanne, a resident of Jeddah, offers her own perspective on the matter: “It’s all about personal freedom. The UAE is an Islamic country which follows a similar code as in Saudi Arabia, yet allows women choices that we find denied here. And the number one irritant and nuisance to all women here is not allowing them to drive their own cars. Perhaps we can attempt to get a discussion going in the Majlis Al Shura pertaining to this matter by using a different logic; perhaps the argument of conservation?”

Doing the math
She continued: “The fastest and least expensive way to conserve water and other resources in Saudi Arabia and save some of our outbound tourist dollars would be to allow women to drive! Where is the connection? Allow me to give an explanation in a very rough estimate of figures: If women were given the right to drive, approximately a million drivers could eventually be sent back to their home countries. Each one of these men consumes about 300 litres of water a day, (about one-third cubic metres). That’s 300 million litres per day for a million drivers. That’s 90 billion litres per year, with allowances made for their vacation time. That’s 90 million cubic metres per year of water consumed by drivers alone.

“The desalination plant in Saudi Arabia produces 1 million cubic metres of water per day. That’s 365 million cubic metres a year. If we had a million less drivers we would only need 275 million cubic metres. The Shuaiba desalination plant would thus have 25 per cent surplus water for people to use if women could drive their own cars. Double check the math.

“The same approximate figures would hold true for electricity consumption. Even if drivers were to be slowly phased out, this would amount to an enormous saving for the country in terms of water, energy, and of course finances as well. The employment of drivers is becoming an increasing financial burden.

“Some women’s salaries are spent solely on a driver’s expenses. Should women then not receive government subsidies for each household, as compensation for the expenses of having to pay recruiting agencies, visas, air fare, medical check- ups, driver’s licences, traffic tickets, extra living quarters, furniture, insurance, meals, medical bills and medication, and of course water and electricity etc., in addition to drivers’ salaries?

“What a huge financial burden for a country with a shrinking middle class, and with minimum wages not much higher than that paid to a driver brought in from a developing country, many of whom have never driven a car before coming to work in Saudi Arabia. That brings up the safety issue as well: Safety on the road, safety allowing one’s children day in and day out in the presence of a stranger.

“Which leads me to my next point. The burden of women being banned from driving is also of a psychological and social nature. How has a conservative society such as Saudi Arabia ever allowed itself to bring total strangers into their homes, not knowing the slightest thing about their past, or their moral conduct? It’s a mystery. The whole issue of the ban on women driving is a mystery and a paradox. And you wonder why we all escape to the UAE? Perhaps it’s because they have got it right!”

And thus Suzanne concludes her argument with such a novel defence. In that she has chosen an original slant to a social issue of growing concern is indicative that this issue will not simply go away. Nor will those marginalised by social restrictions that confine and constrict their personal development be silent forever. The blanket of traditions and beliefs should be shed from the body of this issue.

It is then that perhaps we would become more in line with the UAE.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Video on Saudi Youth and Driving Culture

Many in Saudi Arabia say they would love to see women driving, only the driving culture is not quite safe enough for women to take the wheel. While I argue that women on the road would calm things down and literally slow the traffic, this YouTube video explains their point of view.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Third Saudi woman sues for right to drive

The Independent On-line daily of South Africa has printed an AFP story that Nassimah al-Sadah of Riyadh is suing the traffic department in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province for the right to drive. A link to the story is here and the story is pasted below.
Saudi woman sues over driving ban

IOL mot pic sep28 Saudi Woman Driver
Riyadh - A Saudi women's rights activist said on Monday she has filed a lawsuit against the interior ministry over a decree banning women from obtaining driving licences in the ultra-conservative kingdom.
Nassima al-Sadah is the third woman to file such a lawsuit this year over the rule which enforces a traditional ban on women driving in the Muslim desert nation.
“I filed the lawsuit against the traffic department of the interior ministry at the Dammam court” in Eastern Province, she saidtold AFP.
Before her, Manal al-Sharif, who became a symbol of a campaign to drive after she was arrested last year for defying the ban, and rights activist Samar Badawi also filed similar lawsuits.
Sadah said she made a point by trying repeatedly to apply for a driving licence at the traffic department in Eastern Province.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving.
In June 2011, women activists launched a Women2Drive campaign on social media networks, with many also braving the ban and posting videos of themselves driving.
The following June, activists cancelled plans to get behind the steering wheel on the first anniversary of their campaign, opting instead to petition King Abdullah to lift the ban.
Their campaign, which spread through Facebook and Twitter, was the largest mass action since November 1990, when 47 Saudi women were arrested and punished after demonstrating in cars.
Women in the kingdom who have the means hire drivers, while others must depend on the goodwill of male relatives.
They are also obliged to be veiled in public, and cannot travel unless accompanied by their husbands or a close male relative. - AFP

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saudi women subvert sexist discrimination with their own 'cyber civil society'

Story from Wire Magazine about Saudi women using cyber space to promote the women driving campaign. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted in below.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Saudi Police deny report woman arrested for driving

Gulf News reports about a Saudi woman driving incident in Al Baha, in Saudi Arabia's southwest.

A link to the story is here,  and the text is pasted below.

Daughter drove car after father felt incapacitated and needed help
  • By Habib Toumi Bureau chief
  • Published: 12:45 October 17, 2012
Manama: A Saudi police spokesman has denied claims that a woman has been arrested for driving her father’s car.
“The reports that a woman was seen driving a car with her father sitting next to her are true,” Sa’ad Saleh Tarrad, media spokesman for Al Baha police, said. “However, the investigation concluded that the father felt ill and could not drive, so he asked his daughter to drive the car. Both the man and his daughter were released immediately after they were questioned and there was no arrest,” he said, quoted by Al Madina daily on Wednesday.
Reports claimed that the woman was held by the police after she was caught driving in the Saudi Arabian southwestern city. No legal text bans Saudi women from driving, but deep-rooted customs have not allowed women to sit behind the steering wheel as a bitter standoff between activists calling for granting them the right and conservatives who see it as a gateway to serious social problems has intensified.
Reports about women arrested for driving have invariably mobilised forces in both camps to call for their release or to condemn their challenge to the local customs. In the absence of legal texts regulating the matter, punishment for women who were “caught” driving ranged from signing pledges not to drive to corporal measures.

Last year, King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz overturned a sentence of 10 lashes handed down to a woman who defied the driving ban.
Several bloggers said that the sentence against the woman, Shaima Jastaina, had to be condemned as an expression to stall a pro-women reform drive launched by King Abdullah that included giving women the right to vote and run in municipal elections and becoming members of the Shura Council, the country’s highest advisory authority.

Friday, October 12, 2012

“We cannot go back to the fifteenth century” says Princess Basma bint Saud

Interesting article about and interview with Princess Basma bint Saud, who gave a talk at Cambridge University in the UK. She comments on women driving toward the end. She is against the idea right now - as she believes it would put women in danger. A link to the story is here, and it's pasted in below.

Isabella Cookson meets the Saudi Princess after her talk at the Cambridge Union Society
This summer saw the first women from Saudi Arabia compete in the Olympics. Yet the domestic picture of the 11 million women who live in Saudi Arabia remains largely unchanged. They have no political rights, must have a male guardian (regardless of their age) and are the only women in the world prohibited from driving. The call for change is being championed by an unexpected and polemic figure.

Cambridge Union Society

HRH Princess Basma Bint Saudi claims that her family are not pleased with her stance

HRH Princess Basma Bint Saud Bin Abdulaziz is the niece of the current ruler King Abdullah and the 115th child of King Saud. Despite being one of the most elite royals in the country, she is using her prominent position to speak out for women in a culture where they have no voice. She writes copiously as a journalist and blogger tackling issues of poverty and women’s rights both in the press at home and more recently across the globe. The divorced mother of five also owns her own business, a chain of restaurants, which she hopes to expand to the UK soon. Sitting in front of me, wearing no veil, trousers and a pair of heels, she seems a world apart from the stereotypical image of a woman in Saudi Arabia.
Yet that is exactly what she is: a world apart, the exception, not the rule. “I am very much a woman of high privileges. I have been educated; I have traveled the world. Whatever I say, it can never be as honest as if you had heard it from them. I can try and draw you a picture however, but it isn’t a very rosy one. A woman in Saudi Arabia lives on a daily basis in fear. There’s nothing she can count on. She lives under the tyranny of the man; she has no rights; nowhere to go if she’s abused. She lives in darkness and some light must be shed in her way.”
The Princess is, however, very keen to defend the royal family. She wants reform not revolution. She claims that the King is in fact a reformist who desires change. I wonder, therefore, who and what, prevents progress for women? Her explanation is not black and white, something she herself was keen to emphasise. “The King is a Bedouin man and he gives a big role to women. In that culture, the women tend to raise the children and do the housework, do the fieldwork and drive the camel or the horse. The men are there for protection from other tribes. The woman has her role in this tradition but it’s not modern and it’s in a completely different shape to that in the West.”
Her tie to her family is evidently strong but it does place her in a difficult position, both intellectually and personally. I wonder what her family’s reaction has been and her answer is frank and heartfelt. “Everyone has a price to pay. My family are not against me, but they are not pleased. They have not done anything to stop me. It would not be fair to say that they do not have a hand in what is happening on the ground. Women’s rights would threaten their position with the religious authorities. There are so many grey areas, so many areas that must be reformed.”
Her campaign is directed principally against the Mutawa, the draconian religious police force who in 2002 refused to allow schoolgirls to leave a blazing building because they were not wearing the correct Islamic dress. “I am a very religious person but for me the Mutawa does not represent Islam, they represent extremism and Islam is a religion that forbids extremism. They misinterpret the Qu’ran. Unfortunately, they are getting more and more power.
King Abdullah, since he is a reformist, has been giving money to lots of other organisations in the country. One of the organisations is the religious one, and they’ve taken advantage of that power. King Abdullah wanted to give more rights, more freedom for other organisations to form, to be socially active. Like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, they have taken the reign.”
The battle she is fighting is not just against the patriarchy. Women themselves have proven to be an enemy to reform. “They are playing into the mindset of the culture. It’s the same in Egypt now- you have Egyptian women in the parliament who are saying that women should go back behind doors, raise their family, wear their veils. I am not saying that women shouldn’t play their role but they should play their role within the twenty first century. We cannot go back to the fifteenth century.”
Unexpectedly, the Princess publicly declared that women should not be able to drive. Progress, she thinks, needs to happen over time: “It’s not safe. They would be beaten up by men on the streets which would merely reaffirm that women driving is bad for them. First of all we need to change the constitution, men and women need to be made equal on the streets, in the law courts, in the home, in the workplace, in all rights. Then we might be ready, then women should drive.”
This is not a simple problem, nor one without its contradictions. Yet the unlikely advocate of change must also be a seed of hope for the future of women in Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Woman held for driving and crashing in Saudi

Emirates 24/7 is reporting on the arrest of a Saudi woman caught driving and crashing a car in Riyadh. A link to the story is here, and the text is below.

Saudi Arabia’s feared religious police arrested a woman for breaking a long-standing ban and driving a car in the capital Riyadh, where she caused an accident with two other vehicles.

The woman, in her 20s, rammed into another car and sped in the wrong direction to escape police but hit another vehicle on the road. 

“She was not wearing any head cover or a gown over her clothes…..after the accident, she rushed out of the car and tried to run away but was caught by the drivers of the two damaged vehicles,” Alsaudeh daily said. 

It said the woman was arrested by members of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, who arrived in the scene along with the traffic police. 

Women are not allowed to drive cars in Saudi Arabia but there have been online female campaigns over the past two years to end the ban.

Women to Drive, a battle for dignity

Saudi women rights activist Manal al-Sharif speaks with ANSAmed, a European Union news source, a brief story about the women driving issue. A link to the story is here, and is pasted in below.

(ANSAmed) - ROME, OCTOBER 8 - She's young, beautiful and feisty, and she is the founder of the Saudi Women To Drive campaign, which is part of a larger action called My Right To Dignity: her name is Manal Al Sharif, and ANSAmed interviewed her in Italy, where she attended the International magazine journalism festival in Ferrara.

She reached the festival at the wheel of a car, from the UN High Commission for Human Rights in Geneva, for the right to drive in her home country of Saudi Arabia is symbolic of the larger issue of full citizenhood.

''In my country, a man comes of age at 18, a woman never: she needs permission from a male guardian for every life choice, from studying abroad to looking for a job,'' Sharif told ANSAmed. And, while no law expressly forbids Saudi women to drive, they are de facto banned from getting behind the wheel.

The motor registry software does not issue licenses to female drivers, and women have in the past been sentenced to flogging for being caught at the wheel.

Having become famous for posting a YouTube video in which she is seen driving a car, having started a national women's mobilization and paid for it with nine days in jail, Sharif sued Saudi authorities. That legal battle has been stuck in a civil court for six months, although the floggings appear to have stopped, Sharif pointed out.

On June 17, the second anniversary of her campaign, which has thousands of Facebook and Twitter supporters, Sharif co-signed an appeal to King Abdullah, in which she points out that denying women the right to drive is ''based on customs and traditions that do not come from God.'' Sharif, married and with a child, now lives in Dubai, from where she continues to fight her battle for women's rights in her native Saudi Arabia. A country which, she points out, is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly. (ANSAmed).

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Saudi women drive, but not in the Kingdom

Story from the Saudi Gazette by Jihad Mohammad about Saudi women driving in the nearby United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. A link to the story is here, and the story is pasted in below.
Jihad Mohammad
Saudi Gazette

AL KHOBAR —The roads and communications body in Emirates registered more than 113 Saudi women drivers’ licenses, accounting for 36 percent of Saudi female residents in the Emirates.

 The body said that Saudi women have to prove their residency in the Emirates before they can obtain a license.

In addition, driving schools in Dubai have witnessed an increase in Saudi women candidates, as 55 trainees receive a license every month.

They receive 46 one hour driving sessions, extending over a three month period, with costs reaching 10,000 Dirham. 

Many Saudi women have taken residency in the Emirates, and some have started business investments.

On the same note, the Bahraini general directorate of traffic said that it has issued more than 6000 driving licenses for Saudi women during the past two years, as they use it to drive in the rest of Gulf countries, which allow women drivers. 

A number of Saudi women said that they prefer driving their own cars rather than having a driver, and that they feel some independence this way.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Princess Ameerah al-Taweel on Saudi women driving, Islam, women's rights

A Washington Post video interview with Princess Ameerah al-Taweel about her philanthropic activities, Islam, and women's rights in Saudi Arabia. She begins focusing on women's rights at about 8:20 into the tape. Lee Hawkins is the interviewer.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Threat seen in Saudi women trying to learn to drive

OK, this is pretty funny. Someone in the U.S. State of Arkansas got all in a 'tither' because 20 female Saudi college students wanted to take driving lessons! Story is below and a link is here....
Fortunately they decided that women wanting to drive was no security threat.

The Arkansas Department of Emergency Management issued a general threat warning recently based on a report from a driving school in Northwest Arkansas that 20 Saudi Arabian women were seeking driving lessons. They were students at the University of Arkansas. Cooler heads decided there was nothing to worry about.
According to the Department of Emergency Management, the students e-mailed the school Sept. 3 requesting driving lessons, but did not respond to a query for more information. The e-mail came from the Saudi students organization at the University of Arkansas.
But the fact that female Saudi students wanted to learn how to drive — which is prohibited in their country — was not deemed a credible threat by any of the agencies that ADEM contacted about the driving school's report. That would be the Department of Homeland Security, the ATF, the TSA, FEMA, the FBI and the Secret Service. (See jump for text of DEM report.)
Kimma Harper, president of the driving academy, declined to talk to the Times right away, saying she needed to check with someone and call back. We also couldn't reach any of the Saudi students. We don't know yet if any lessons have begun.
Chad Stover, the public information officers for ADEM, said it was probably the number involved that triggered the threat message. He said the checklist that ADEM uses before it issues such an alert does not use nationality as a trigger. He said the duty officers who take the calls take into account the concerns of the caller. "If they were worried about 20 Baptists [for example], we would have gotten involved in the same way," he said.
"We would encourage people to get driving lessons," he said.
Public Threat - General Benton Co
The Driving Academy of Northwest Arkansas reported 20 Saudi Arabian women are requesting to learn how to drive. She received an email requesting driving training on September 3. She replied back on September 5 stating she had some questions for them. They haven't answered back. They stated in their request that they are with the Saudi Students Organization at University of Arkansas. (Notified: Local Coordinator, Area Coordinator, Deputy Director, Director, Hazmat Program Manager, PIO, Fusion Center, ATF, Department of Homeland Security Protective Security Adviser, ESF 2, ESF 8, FBI, FEMA Region VI, JTTF, TSA, U.S. Secret Service)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Road accidents in the Gulf: the fastest way to die in the region

The crash in Oman late last month that wiped out seven members of an Al Ain family has highlighted the daily carnage on the roads of GCC nations.
Saudi Arabia's official accident figures tell the grim cost of driving standards in the kingdom, both human and economic.

According to the Interior Ministry's annual report for 2010, the economic cost from accidents was an estimated 21 billion riyals (Dh20.6bn), while the number of fatalities rose by 10 per cent in just a year.

That works out at an average of 19.1 deaths a day on Saudi roads, making them among the most dangerous in the world.

On any given day, motorists can be seen running red lights, speeding, racing, or driving in a reckless and aggressive fashion.

"Just drive for a few minutes and you will see someone running the red lights," says Said Khouri, 36, a Lebanese contractor who lives in Jeddah. "Then drive on the motorway and see how people pass you speeding on the shoulder, or get up on your rear. It's very, very dangerous."

A Saudi resident is more likely to be killed or injured in a traffic accident than in a murder or an assault, according to the Overseas Security Advisory Council, a US government body created to promote security cooperation between American companies abroad and the US Department of State. It is an indicator that Saudi Arabia is a relatively safe country, save for its driving habits.
According to the council's 2012 report: "One common denominator among reported accidents throughout Saudi Arabia is speed, which increases both the number of accidents and their lethality. Aggressive driving is often paired with high speed, with drivers racing, driving on the shoulder to pass, weaving through traffic, and cutting off other drivers."

The report says road rage is common and sometimes leads to physical violence. Texting while driving is also common, and when combined with high speeds and heavy traffic leads to numerous accidents.

Lax enforcement of traffic laws is also blamed.

"We face a major problem here in that the police do not enforce the law," said Faris Al-Ghamdi, 37, a Saudi engineer who suffered a fractured spine three years ago when a driver running a red light ploughed into his sports car. "The other problem is that drivers here think they are above the law, almost invincible. They do whatever they want. Look what all the kids have done about Saher."

Two years ago, Saudi Arabia introduced Saher, an automated traffic control and management system that covers major cities and uses digital cameras linked to the Ministry of Interior's national information centre to register violations. Although it has been credited with saving countless lives by forcing the vast majority to slow down, it is easily foiled.

Motorists of all ages are covering up their front and rear licence plates to make it impossible for violations to be recorded against them.

Zaid Al-Hamzi, spokesman for the Jeddah traffic police, confirmed that Saher was unable to register violations against vehicles with altered licence plates.

"We are using the unmarked traffic patrols cars to find cars that have their plates covered. When part of the licence plate is covered, the cameras are unable to register the violation. But when our secret patrols find a car with its plates covered, the vehicle is impounded for at least a week and the driver is forced to pay a heavy fine."

According to Mr Al-Ghamdi, that is not happening.

"You will see so many cars with their plates covered. That speaks volumes about the average Saudi motorist's respect for the law and its enforcement," he said.

One factor that makes Saudi driving unique is that there are no women drivers. Instead women must rely on the males in the family or a driver to take them places. Regardless, many women do have a view on driving standards.

"I hate going out on the road, they are so congested and full of bad drivers," said Hala Al Qurashi, 32, from Khobar. "Only recently I have started taking the taxi when my husband or driver can't come to pick me up at the time I need to leave. But I am not always lucky and end up with a bad taxi driver so I sit and pray I arrive in one piece."

The mother of two would prefer to drive herself and her children to school, believing she would be a safer driver.

"They are not the driver's children and so he wouldn't be as careful as I would be on the road with them."

Mrs Al Qurashi was in a major crash as a child on her way back from school, when a car ran a red light and smashed into a car carrying her and her two sisters.

"Thank God we were in a big car and only had minor bruises and neck problems," she said. "We could have easily been killed."

Another Saudi woman said she has seen a dramatic improvement in road safety in Jeddah in recent years.

"The cameras they put up along the roads are working, you don't see many drivers racing between themselves over 180 kilometre per hour inside the city streets," said Dr Nouf Al Ahmed.
She believes one of the core problems is that many young drivers do not have a driving licence, or if they do, have obtained it through "wasta" instead of a real test.

"You see kids on the road, some that look 11 years old, behind the wheel. Where are the parents? Where are the police? They are very dangerous and end up killing people."

Alia, who asked for her last name to be withheld, lost her father 10 years ago in a crash when he was driving to Mecca from Jeddah.

"He was left there by the car that hit him, with the police finding him two days later. That is unacceptable," she said.

"He could have been saved if someone stopped and checked on him. There are no manners on the roads here, everyone is out for themselves."

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Don't Bother Yelling "Taxi!" In Saudi Arabia Anymore

The LA Times writes about a new law in Saudi Arabia, which has yet to take effect, that will prohibit taxis from cruising the streets of the big cities for fares. The story asserts that it will affect women most of all. I'm still not sure how it will work for women who use cabs to go shopping. I'm sure the powerful retail merchants of the Kingdom won't want any limits on the ability of female customers to get to their stores.

A link to the story is here and the text is pasted below.
September 1, 2012
Saudi woman boards taxi in Riyadh

Saudi Arabia's Transport Ministry has come up with a novel way to cut traffic in the kingdom's congested cities: Taxis will now be banned from cruising the streets and picking up passengers without an advance booking.
The new policy, announced Friday, is part of a major revamping of the taxi system that will require drivers to install an Automated Vehicle Locator in their cars. The Big Brother-like device will allow authorities to track their every movement. Unauthorized stops, excessive speeds or driving without an assigned passenger pickup can lead to fines up to $1,300 or license revocation for repeat offenders,  Al Madina newspaper reported.
The new monitoring system was necessary to limit the number of vehicles on busy streets in the two main urban centers of the kingdom, Riyadh and Jeddah, where 31,000-plus taxis are licensed to operate, the newspaper said.
The change is expected to primarily affect women, who are prohibited from driving in Saudi Arabia and banned from bus travel on most urban routes as well.
Anyone wanting a taxi -- even from heavily traveled venues like airports and shopping centers -- will have to call in advance to get a car dispatched, Al Arabiya news agency reported.
Neither news story specified when the new tracking system would go into effect.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Change Depends on the Wealth of the Country

This letter appeared in a New York Times discussion about change in the Arab World. A link to the story is here, and text is pasted below. You can add comments to the NYT posting.

Aiyah Saihati
Aiyah Saihati is a Saudi businesswoman and writer. She is on Twitter.
August 28, 2012
Arab monarchies can be divided into two groups: those with oil and those without.
Change will be slow in most oil-rich Gulf states with one exception: Saudi Arabia.
Monarchies less dependent on a wealth of natural resources -- Jordan, Bahrain and Morocco -- are under more pressure from their citizens to democratize. But oil-rich states, engaged in measured crackdowns, are less likely to fully democratize. They have created societies more concerned with entitlements of wealth distribution than with democratic political participation. Furthermore, the citizens of oil-rich states value their countries’ strategic importance in an oil-dependent world and understand the level of foreign support their governments garner.
As such, change will be slow in most oil-rich Gulf states with one exception: Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is the largest oil-rich monarchy and has one of the lowest G.D.P.'s per capita among the Gulf states. It also has a young population (45 percent of the population is under the age of 20). With high unemployment rates looming, the Saudi leadership needs to act fast to keep its people content.
Aware of the situation, the monarchy has begun to do the unthinkable. Recently, it decided to permit women to work as airline attendants. Empowering women is the easiest and wisest path to gain public approval. Lifting the ban on women driving, for example, will not only make people feel less oppressed but will also bolster the local economy by at least $140 billion over the next 10 years. (An amount that far exceeds the appeasement package the Saudi monarchy offered its public during the Arab Spring). The push of one button to overturn the ban is a no-brainer.
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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ramadan TV Gently Pushes Saudi Boundaries

Article about a Ramadan TV show in Saudi Arabia that deals with women driving. Full story is posted below, and link to the story is here..

Ramadan TV Gently Pushes Saudi Boundaries

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Women are driving in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi State Television
In a scene from the Saudi TV series “Hush Hush,” women are almost but not quite presented on screen as drivers.

"Every Day a Car," is a quiz show about traffic safety on Al Madj, a privately owned religious network so strict that women are never shown on screen. 

Not on the streets. That would be illegal. But on a recent episode of “Hush Hush,” a new comedy on Saudi state television, a lilac sedan comes to a halt and a woman climbs out of the driver’s seat. A group of goofy, lascivious men (three stooges in red-checked kaffiyehs) try to pick her up by offering to repair the car. From beneath a black hijab and opaque abaya, glints of the woman’s contempt show through. “Who says my car broke down?” she says coolly. “I’m waiting for my friend.” A matching Barbie-pink car pulls up and two women glide away, leaving the Saudi dolts deflated and agog.

It’s a fantasy, of course, a comic trial balloon. “Hush Hush” was created for Ramadan, the Muslim holiday season that ended this weekend, and the state-sanctioned sketch makes the case for female drivers in a jokey way that heartens modern-minded viewers without provoking traditional ones. The woman is never shown actually driving; the camera cuts away before she grasps the wheel. It’s the kind of ellipsis that American television once used for homosexuality; you didn’t actually see it but you knew it was there.

Even on state television gentle social satire about Saudi life is permissible and also welcome during Ramadan, a monthlong religious celebration when people pray, fast all day and then feast throughout the night. It’s a festive season that also serves as a sweeps month: TV ratings peak because people stay home and watch with their families, avoiding foreign shows to focus on Arab television. Especially in Saudi Arabia, which has the highest advertising rates in the Middle East, Ramadan prompts an avalanche of new dramas, comedies, talk shows and game shows. Because people are fasting during the day and obsessed with food, there are also lots of cooking shows, including “Saudi Chefs,” which stars two young, quirky alumni of “Top Chef Middle East.”

Ramadan is also when Saudis talk, blog and tweet about what they are watching, and it’s a broader and spicier array of shows than outsiders might imagine.

Taboos and a vigilant religious police force control public behavior but they don’t shackle viewing habits nearly as much. Through satellite dishes and the Internet, Saudis have access to the wide and wanton world: racy Turkish soap operas, violent action movies, sexy Moroccan pop singers and episodes of “Gossip Girl” and “CSI.” Their own programming tests the fault line between modernity and tradition; in a rigidly controlled country television is the arena in which small rebellions can be staged and festering tensions addressed.

No show has sparked more debate — and threats — than “Omar,” a sweeping 31-episode drama about the life of the seventh-century Caliph Omar ibn al-Khattab, one of the Prophet Muhammad’s companions and a founding father of the Islamic empire. “Omar” is Saudi television’s most ambitious project, a $30 million, cast-of-thousands Koranic epic in the style of the 1965 classic “The Greatest Story Ever Told.” Only in this case it’s the first time this oft-told story has been dramatized for television.

In Saudi Arabia, as in much of the Islamic world, it is considered a sin to depict a likeness of Muhammad, and until now, at least, it was unthinkable to show the face of a sahabi, an original confidant.

The grand mufti of Saudi Arabia, who is blind, gave a sermon instructing followers not to watch “Omar.” Others were even more virulently opposed. The producers took fanatics’ threats seriously. The series was made jointly by the Saudi-owned, pan-Arab commercial network MBC and Qatar television, less to share the costs than to spread the blame. MBC gathered a panel of respected Koranic scholars to review the script and added airport-level security to its Dubai headquarters. Omar is such a sacrosanct figure that his voice on the series is dubbed by a Jordanian actor with a deep voice and refined Arabic, and the actor who portrays him has a contract that prevents him from playing any other screen roles for five years — this to prevent the face of Omar from popping up anytime soon as a drunken womanizer on a Lebanese soap opera.

The series offers teachings, intrigue and lavish battle scenes that bring special effects in the style of “The Matrix” to sword fights and camel charges. But especially now that the Arab Spring has stretched into a long, hot summer of insurrection, it is the subliminal message that resounds most. Younger, reform-minded viewers interpret the story of Omar as a parable for their own struggles — Omar brings the prophet’s words on monotheism, tolerance and social justice to backward tribes who stubbornly cling to old values. On Twitter women say that the slaves’ desire for freedom on the series is like those of women today.

The Internet has emboldened online malcontents on both sides, but television, especially at Ramadan, is where society measures itself.

The government, which controls state television and holds commercial television on a tether, does most of the talking.

The chairman of MBC has ties to the royal family, and several princes own media companies. In one way or another, all the major broadcasters in the region rely on the Saudi market and pay obeisance to local standards of modesty and political discourse. Even on YouTube, Saudis who live within the system don’t push too hard. The young writers who produce a mock newscast on a YouTube comedy show, “On the Fly,” check their material about ministers with their offices ahead of time, and they don’t make jokes about the royal family.

But they do tweak religious figures, a little. Ahmad Fathaldin, a performer and writer for “On the Fly,” made the jump to television this season, on, of all places, Al Resala, a religious channel of the Rotana Group, a conglomerate mostly owned by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal. (Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation also has a slice.)

There, Mr. Fathaldin is the host of “The A Tweet,” a live talk show that uses Twitter to interact with viewers. (In Saudi Arabia even the most traditional imams use social media.) Mr. Fathaldin put it this way: “I try to make clerics say funny stuff.”

Royals are covered even more obliquely.“Fat Cats of the Desert,” a gaudy nighttime soap on a more daring channel on the Rotana network, is in its fourth season, and it portrays rich Saudis as decadent, hard-drinking, free-spending sybarites. The series opens with a disclaimer that says any resemblance to real people is a coincidence, which helps convince many viewers that the desert fat cats are stand-ins for certain members of the royal family.

“Even a very rich family can’t have someone killed in Germany,” Aisha al-Mohawis, 62, a connoisseur of the show, explained. As she spoke in her parlor here, her 2 ½-year-old granddaughter sat at her side, engrossed by “Dora the Explorer” on her iPad.

Change, many Saudis say, is inevitable because market forces will oblige the powers that be to adapt to a huge population under 25 and a growing middle class educated abroad and steeped in Western values. Television feeds the restlessness. Government officials say even the state channel must compete with commercial channels. “We have to show life’s reality,” one Saudi government official said. “Otherwise people won’t watch.”

Women live in a constant swirl of contradiction, segregated behind abayas, in single-sex schools and even in no-men-allowed communities: Modon, the Saudi Industrial Property Authority, announced this month that it was developing an all-female industrial park in Hofuf.

But in their living rooms, Saudi women can watch high-heeled female homicide detectives handcuffing male suspects, surgeons falling in love with emergency room doctors, even single women driving themselves home from dates in convertibles, uncovered hair blowing in the breeze.
Some women in Riyadh say they are used to the cognitive dissonance. Yet increasingly, Ramadan shows echo their discontent — and fantasies. One popular new series on Abu Dhabi TV is called “Man, the Toy of a Woman.” A PG-rated “Sex and the City,” “The Girls’ Room” created a stir merely by depicting Saudi single women being saucy. (Only non-Saudi actresses play the key roles.)

And that’s why some conservative Saudis have ensured that their most traditional viewers can choose to see almost nothing: Al Majd is a privately owned religious network so strict that it doesn’t show women on any of its numerous channels. Many television sets come with a chip that can be set to block all the less pious networks.

During Ramadan most commercial programmers in the Arab world avoid subplots and costumes that are too risqué for prime time with family. But Al Majd uses the holiday to spice things up.
Every year Al Majd sponsors a Ramadan quiz show devoted to traffic safety. Contestants call in to “Every Day a Car,” and if they answer safety questions correctly, they can win a new Kia. Women may compete and they may even win the grand prize. They just can’t drive it.

“They can register the cars under their own names,” says the show’s host, Khalid Hazmi. “But they must let their fathers or brothers drive them.”

Sometimes public opinion abroad can coerce changes in Saudi policy, most notably during the London Olympics this summer, when the International Olympic Committee refused to allow any teams that did not include female athletes. Saudi Arabia, where sports for girls are forbidden in public schools, fought but then relented, grudgingly sending two women: an 800-meter runner who wore a scarf and long pants and finished last, and a judo contestant who lasted for about a minute in the opening round of competition.

Spectators in London gave them ovations. Saudi television and newspapers all but ignored them; on their big days the state channel mostly showed older men in white robes and headdresses on a couch, discussing Ramadan.

Saudi Arabia can seem willfully backward, but it was one of the first countries in the Middle East to have television; in the 1950s the oil giant Aramco brought “I Love Lucy” and “Bonanza” to its employees. King Faisal, in a rush to modernize his realm, created Saudi state television in the 1960s, and that bold step is widely believed to have led to his assassination in 1975. One of his nephews was a fanatic who led an attack on a television station and was killed in the ensuing police raid. Another nephew later shot King Faisal at close range, apparently to avenge his brother’s death.

Until recently, foreign programs dominated; now Saudis are making their own shows. OSN, a pan-Arab pay-television network that is partly Saudi-owned and based in Dubai, offers “House” and “Two and a Half Men,” as well as “The Sultan’s Harem,” a Turkish series about the life and many loves of the 16th-century Ottoman emperor Sultan Suleiman. (It’s “The Tudors” of the Middle East.)

Like other pay channels, though, OSN has to come up with original programming that is singular enough to tempt customers to pay for it. This year OSN offered a second season of what it calls the first Saudi musical, “Hindistani,” a show that by aiming to be provocative highlights society’s lingering inhibitions.

A Saudi spice merchant mopes at home as his wife, cloaked in a black abaya, goes to visit her aunt. He is worried about infidelity, and in his market stall he falls asleep. Instantly, he finds himself, Walter Mitty style, in a Bollywood fantasy world where he and his wife, both in bright shades of hot pink and yellow and green, dance and sing as they discuss their jealousy and their love — in joyful, uninhibited Arabic. “Hindistani,” filmed in India, is a lot more outré than it sounds: strict Saudi tradition bans dancing and bright colors in public as well as modern music.

Khulud Abu-Homos, the head of programming at OSN, said the Saudi actor who plays the lead worried in rehearsal about how his family and fans would react. For perhaps obvious reasons, the producers did not find a Saudi actress to play the heroine. OSN hired an Iraqi actress instead.
On-demand television is one of the more obvious symbols of Western prosperity and consumer ease. During Ramadan it is marketed to Saudis as a way of preserving tradition.

Ms. Abu-Homos said that advertising this year stressed a key advantage of on-demand TV. “Viewers don’t have to give up their lives,” she said. “They can press ‘pause’ and go to the mosque.”

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Three women arrested for driving in Saudi

My apologies for not posting much in the last few weeks. The whole world has been watching Saudi women and their triumphant appearance at the Olympics, and most news stories about them mention that they can't drive back home. But other than that the news about the Saudi women's driving campaign has been relatively quiet. I am hoping that is a sign of some very good things to come. Last September on Saudi Arabia's National Day, King Abdallah announced that women would have the right to vote in municipal elections and said he would appoint them to the Shura Advisory Council. Some had hoped he would lift the ban on women driving. It didn't happen then, but I have a hunch that it's possible this year, especially with the first-time appearance of women at the Olympics. Change is in the air.

That said, below is one of the few news items on the topic, from Emirates 24/7.

A link to the story is here, and the text is below.

Saudi police arrested three Arab women for driving a car after a chase that resulted in a collision with the police patrol vehicle.

A police patrol spotted the two Tunisian and an Egyptian woman in a car driven by one of them in the eastern town of Dammam late night.

“The patrol chased them and tried to stop their car…but as they tried to escape, their car collided with the police vehicle...they were all arrested,” the Arabic language daily Sabq said.
Women are banned from driving in the conservative Moslem kingdom but there have been campaign by Saudi women over the past year to end the ban.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The dilemma of women: Costly transportation

Laura Bashraheel of the Saudi Gazette interviews Saudi women about the inconvenience and expense of hiring and keeping a driver. A link to her story is here,  and the story is pasted below.

A woman gets into a taxi outside a shopping mall in Riyadh. — AFP photo

Laura Bashraheel
Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH — Since women are not allowed to drive in the Kingdom, driving has become a highly lucrative profession for some men. Summertime and Ramadan are peak seasons for independent drivers and companies who charge between SR30-50 per hour or per drop-off. Mohammed Ali, a driver who works for a private car company in Jeddah, said that he earns SR3000 a month, while he would earn SR2000 as a private driver for a family. He feels that it is “better to work for a company as salaries are better.”

Fatima Ibraheem, a 28-year-old employee in a private company, said that she does not have a driver and as such has no other option but to use independent drivers. “I paid SR600 for a driver to drop me off and pick me up from work, six days a week until recently. My office is near Palestine St. but my driver told me he couldn’t drive me there anymore because he doesn’t have clients in that area. He prefers to stay within the Rawdah/Tahliah area where he can make more money,” she explained.

Fatima estimates that he makes a minimum of SR400 a day. “He works 18 hours a day and pays only SR400 a month for his rent. He refused to become my personal driver on a monthly salary of SR2,000. That’s why it’s so hard to find a driver nowadays,” she added.

Nadia Sayed, a 31-year-old teacher, is also suffering as she cannot find a suitable driver. She has no brothers and her father does not have the time to provide transportation to and from her workplace. “In the past drivers used to charge SR1,200 a month but now they realized how profitable this profession can be,” she said.

Nadia added that though she understands the complexity of the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia, she has not “heard of any research on why it’s impossible or what could be done for women to overcome the whole issue of transportation.”

After her driver left, Nadia contacted a car company, but was taken aback when the company told her that they would charge SR3,000 a month just to take her to and from work five days a week. Her transportation allowance is SR400 a month. According to her, finding a driver is much like operating in a black market.

Dana Alawi, a 28-year-old employee, urges the concerned authorities to release an official statement immediately on the status on women driving. “We have been waiting long for public transportation since we don’t know when we are going to be allowed to drive,” she said. Dana asserts that car companies “are always busy nowadays and it’s not safe to go with random drivers. Transportation for women in this country is one of the major dilemmas.”

Dana also said that she has been looking for a driver as Ramadan approaches but has yet to find an affordable one. Like Nadia, she feels “it’s like a black market for drivers — the higher you pay the more chances you might find one,” she said.

Saudi activists have been advocating for their right to drive with the most recent effort being the Women2Drive campaign launched in 2011. On its one-year anniversary, the campaign renewed its call for Saudi women to get behind the wheel and post videos of themselves driving to social media websites. However, the campaign didn’t create as much buzz as it did last year and there were only a few women who posted videos.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Q & A: The Saudi woman who dared to drive

The Los Angeles Times printed this interview with Manal al-Sharif by Emily Alpert. A link to it is here,  and text below.

Manal Sharif has been jailed, insulted and threatened. Her enemies faked her death, in a hamhanded bid to make an example of her. This year, she says, she was forced out of her job. Her life has been turned upside down by a crime that isn’t even a crime -- driving in her country, Saudi Arabia.

"There’s a famous saying in Arabic: When you oppress people, you make them heroes," she said. "I couldn’t understand why I was in jail. But that’s what created all this."

Driving isn’t actually illegal for women in Saudi Arabia, as Sharif is quick to point out. But because Muslim clerics have declared it forbidden, the traffic department refuses to grant women licenses. Sharif is among a group of women who have contested the ban.

Last year, after millions of people viewed an online video of her driving, Sharif was detained twice by police who insisted that she stop and demanded to know who was behind the campaign. She was released after an outcry but continued to face death threats and other attacks.

The furor also made her famous, feted as one of the most influential people in the world by Time magazine and awarded a prize in Oslo for "creative dissent" -- a prize that ultimately cost Sharif her job when her employer told her she couldn’t leave the country to accept it, she said.

She did anyway, leaving her jobless after her trip to Europe this spring. But there is plenty for Sharif to do: The campaign that began as a plea to allow women to drive has expanded to contest all kinds of sexism in Saudi Arabia, where women must obtain permission from men to work, travel or study.

Activists are pushing for women to drive again Friday; an earlier driving protest was delayed after the death of the Saudi crown prince. The Times talked to Sharif about her quest in the year since she and her fellow activists urged Saudi women to get behind the wheel.
Why do you think driving has been so sensitive in Saudi Arabia, even more so than women voting?

There are people who will fight back because it's a financial loss for them. If you want to get a driver, you have to go to an office and give them money to bring you a driver from India or Indonesia. It's a business for them. We’ve been told they get 800 million riyals every year. So businessmen will do all kinds of campaigns to discredit us and say bad things about us. It's like a war.

Then there are the religious people. If they lose their grip on controlling women, they lose the grip on the whole society. We believe these smaller subjects are used to make people not discuss the more important thing, which is the male guardianship system for women. Being treated as a second-class citizen. All of this is the tip of the iceberg. There are children, 10 years old, and they drive because their moms or sisters cannot drive! A woman has to have her driver go with her to the office, go home, come pick her up, go home. This means more crowded streets and more pollution.
Do women defy the ban in their daily lives?

Sometimes it's really urgent and a woman has to drive, like the kid is dying. But usually the women do not know how. It's a very foreign act. My friend, her dad died in front of her waiting for the ambulance because she couldn’t drive. She said, "If I could drive I would have saved my father." Even if a woman wants to do it and knows how, your neighbors see you driving and call the religious police.

What has happened since the protests last year?

We’ve been talking to officials, writing articles, campaigning, trying to teach women to drive. I filed the first lawsuit against the traffic police for not issuing me a license. We believe the driving campaign rocked the boat. People talk about it now. The taboo has opened. There’s also been so much international attention.

I never understood it, why people are so interested in women driving. But when I met Kathryn Cameron Porter, president of the Leadership Council for Human Rights, in the United States, she said, "Manal, you find women who didn’t care because we take everything for granted, and when they see this, they say, 'What? This woman can’t drive because she’s a woman?'" It is the power of a single story.

Now anywhere you go, if they know one thing about Saudi Arabia, they know women cannot drive there. That means the government will be pressured to do something.

Do you believe this will change soon?

I believe if women want to change their reality, it will change. If women are silent, I don’t think anything will change. Rights are never given. Rights are taken.
We’re also hoping for some new and young blood (in the Saudi government). Sixty percent of us in this country are under 25, but the people in power are double our age. This creates a huge gap between us.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Saudi Women Drive on Anniversary of Campaign to End Ban

Donna Abu-Nasr reports via Bloomberg. Link to article is here and text pasted below.

Aziza al-Yousef said she took a 15- minute drive in the Saudi capital today to mark the first anniversary of a campaign to end the ban on women drivers in the kingdom.

Al-Yousef, a 52-year-old computer science university lecturer, said she encountered no problems driving in support of a call by the My Right to Dignity campaign. Saudi Arabia follows the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam, and religious police formally known as the General Presidency for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice ensure strict gender segregation at public places such as restaurants and schools.
The driving ban highlights the disparity between the rights of men and women in the ultra-conservative kingdom, holder of the world’s second-largest oil reserves. Photographer: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images

“What’s happening today is not a protest,” she said by phone from Riyadh. “We want to remember the day and the issue.”

The driving ban highlights the disparity between the rights of men and women in ultra-conservative kingdom, holder of the world’s second-largest oil reserves. Women have been granted the right to vote and run in the 2015 municipal elections, yet they were excluded from last year’s ballot and can’t travel or get an education or job without male approval.

“Society will get used to seeing women behind the wheel,” the My Right to Dignity campaign said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. “We demand the protection of women drivers from any legal sanctions, and we demand that authorities protect women drivers in the street from any harassments they could face.”

Driving Necessity

Al-Yousef and about 100 other women across the kingdom haven’t stopped driving since the campaign was started, she said. On most occasions, it was out of necessity, she said, citing examples such as a woman who took her son who was suffering from an asthma attack to a hospital in the middle of the night.

“We didn’t drive to the mall or a party; we drove when there was a need and we couldn’t find a driver,” said al- Yousef, a member of My Right to Dignity campaign who said she drove about 30-40 times last year.

Women activists started several campaigns for broader rights last year, including the driving initiative. They were inspired by the Arab revolts that led to the fall of leaders in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen. One of their efforts, a campaign called Baladi, partially succeeded with King Abdullah’s decision to allow women to participate in the next elections.

Brief Detention

More than 50 women responded to the call to get behind the wheel in June 2011, taking spins in their cars as authorities largely turned a blind eye. Some continued to drive after the one-day initiative, and a couple were briefly detained. One woman was sentenced to 10 lashes by a court in Jeddah, a decision that was later rescinded.

Mohammed al-Qahtani, who sat in the passenger seat last year as his wife drove, said the couple won’t repeat the experience because they were pulled over by a police car and he was forced to sign a pledge saying he won’t let his wife drive again.

“But I told my wife she should encourage her friends to do so,” said al-Qahtani, a member of the Saudi Civil and Political Rights Association.

The My Right to Dignity campaign called on women with international driving licenses to repeat the turnout today, and to record their trips as evidence. Those who don’t know how to drive were urged to send a picture of themselves behind the wheel of a car to the campaigners.

Male Supporters

The group also called on male supporters to take their female relatives on car journeys, sending a video clip or a picture of the event, and to teach them how to drive, “even your mother.”

“Marking the anniversary is going to be symbolic but the symbolism is important because it will be a reminder of the urgent matters that need attention, and a sign of continuity,” Hatoon al-Fassi, a Saudi historian, said in a phone interview on June 27.

Before last year’s initiative, the previous public defiance of the ban by a group of women was in November 1990, when U.S. troops were massed in Saudi Arabia to prepare for the war that would expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

To contact the reporter on this story: Donna Abu Nasr in Beirut at at
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at

Thursday, June 28, 2012

iCNN Blogger: Why you should give up driving on Friday

CNN's blogger John D. Sutter writes about iCNN's project to show support for Saudi women driving on Friday, June 29th, 2012. A link to the blog entry here. and the text is below.

By John D. Sutter, CNN
(CNN) - CNN iReport is asking people all over the world to give up driving for a day - and document it - in support of women in Saudi Arabia, who aren't allowed to drive because of religious rules in that conservative Middle Eastern kingdom.
Go to the iReport assignment page to learn how to participate.

Here's an example video that already came in from the Philippines.
(Sorry I can't figure out how to embed it here).

CNN plans to stitch some of the best videos together into a highlight reel that will be published online and may be shown on TV. The effort comes as a group of Saudi women, for the second year, are planning to protest Saudi's driving ban by getting behind the wheel and taking to the streets on Friday. The Women2Drive movement asks the women to upload their road trips to YouTube.

On June 17 of last year, dozens of women took to the streets in similar demonstrations.
Manal al-Sharif, whose driving video sparked the protest, was arrested and detained for her involvement.

Here's a profile I wrote after meeting al-Sharif this year. Perhaps the most powerful thing about her story (besides the fact that The Backstreet Boys had a hand in her transforming from Osama bin Laden supporter to human rights activist) is she believes that if Saudi women stand up and take control of their rights, the rest of the country will follow suit. "When women break that taboo and they're not afraid to drive that car by herself - that's it," she said. "Now she has the guts to speak up for herself and take action."

She's encouraged also by the movement's support outside of Saudi Arabia.
Check out a 2011 video of her driving below:

Out of fear for her safety, al-Sharif says she won't participate in the protests on Friday. But the protests are expected to continue in the spirit of that widely circulated video she uploaded last summer.

It's unclear how large the demonstrations will become, but you can follow the conversation about the driving women on CNN, iReport and on the Twitter hashtag #Women2Drive. The group also asks people who support the campaign to change their Twitter avatars to this photo. And Amnesty International also is collecting photos of people who support the driving campaign.

Saudi women have been pushing for the right to drive since the early 1990s, but with little luck. The Saudi kingdom, which enforces a conservative interpretation of Islamic law, also bans women from making formal decisions without the permission of a male guardian. Women don't have the right to vote or hold public office in Saudi Arabia, although that is expected to change in 2015. Earlier this week, the country's London embassy announced it would let women compete in the Olympics for the first time.

Organizers say the Women2Drive movement stands in for many women's rights issues in the country.

iReport: What if you weren't allowed to drive

Monday, June 25, 2012

June 29th driving protest still on

Contrary to some news reports, the planned June 29th driving protest to support Saudi women gaining the right to drive is still on the calendar, according to the facebook page, "My dignity is my right,".  A link to a tweet about it is here and the full text of the tweet is as follows:

The news of canceling the 1st anniversary 4 is not correct. None of members is behind it. We r still on June 29.

Thanks for blogger and tweeter Pedro Pizano for retweeting it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Saudi women renew calls to lift driving ban

Story below from Reuters - reporting that women driving activists will once more demonstrate by driving on June 29th. A link to the story is here and the text is pasted below.

Tue, Jun 19 2012
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - A group of Saudi activists are calling on women to get behind the wheel next week in defiance of a ban on female drivers, reviving a campaign that petered out last year.

"If women don't take action, the authorities will not lift the ban. It is up to women to decide," Manal Alsharif, one of the campaign organizers who was detained last year after posting a video of her driving in the streets of the city of Khobar, told Reuters on Tuesday.

Under Saudi Arabia's strict Islamic laws, women require a male guardian's permission to travel abroad, undergo some types of medical surgery and work in some jobs.
While there is no written legislation banning women from driving, Saudi law requires citizens to use locally issued licenses while in the country. Such licenses are not issued to women, making it effectively illegal for them to drive.

"The key to lifting the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia is to start with the women themselves ... That is why we ask the authorities to protect those women who need to practice that right," they said in an emailed statement sent to Reuters.

The campaign leaders had initially planned for women with valid international licenses to drive on June 17 but had to postpone their plans to June 29 after conservative Crown Prince Nayef passed away on Saturday.

"In commemoration of the one-year anniversary of the June 17 campaign, we renew our initiative by the women and men who support them in order to urge the authorities to look into this demand," they said in their original statement.

There is no indication of how many women will respond to this call and the Interior Ministry could not immediately comment.

"It is not likely that many women will take action on June 29. We are just stating a point that we are not giving up until the first (female) driver's license is issued," Alsharif said.

"We are hoping that with persistence and time ... people will see who we really are, Saudi women calling to have full citizenship and end decades of discrimination against us."
Around the same time last year, after pro-democracy protests swept through the region, dozens of Saudi women responded to the "Women 2 Drive" campaign, posting pictures and videos of their driving on twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Some of the women were detained briefly and two faced charges, including that of "challenging the monarch". One of them was let go after signing a pledge not to drive again, while the other was sentenced to 10 lashes.

Reuters could not confirm if the lashing sentence was inflicted, but a Saudi princess tweeted that it had been revoked.

This time the "Women 2 Drive" activists are calling for King Abdullah to support them by stopping any punishments being imposed by the authorities.

King Abdullah has a reputation as a cautious reformer and supporter of women's rights. Last year he announced plans to allow women to vote in municipal council elections and join the consultative Shoura council.

"In our campaign we do not seek to disturb the authorities or violate rules and regulations ... All we want is for the women who need to go about their daily business and do not have a man to help her to be able to help herself," they said in a petition addressed to King Abdullah.

"Our only hope is hanging on your kindness and support for our campaign by instructing those involved from the police, regional governors, and the religious police to support those of us who have valid licenses to use them," they said.

(Reporting by Asma Alsharif; Editing by Angus McDowall and Andrew Roche)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Women ready to be Saudi Arabia's new driving force

Story from the Canberra Times - by Ruth Pollard
Published: June 18, 2012 - 9:39AM

As Saudi Arabia mourned the death of another heir to the throne, a small group of women in the capital, Riyadh, were preparing to do what the late Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul-Aziz al-Saud vowed never to allow: drive.

The 78-year-old is the second crown prince to die in eight months, and all eyes are on the increasingly frail King Abdullah, 88, as he prepares to choose a successor.

A hardline conservative, Prince Nayef's appointment in November raised fears that if he did become leader he would abolish King Abdullah's cautious attempts at reform, such as promising that women would be allowed to run and vote in the 2015 council elections.
He was a vociferous supporter of sending troops to neighbouring Bahrain in March last year to support the Sunni monarchy's crackdown on peaceful protests by the island nation's Shiite majority.

Leaders of the Saudi reform movement have reportedly been arrested and jailed on his orders, and rather than enter into talks with opposition figures he once famously said: ''What we won by the sword, we will keep by the sword.''

The man experts say is most likely to replace Prince Nayef, Defence Minister Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, is seen as a moderate on women's rights but a hawk when it comes to regional security, Iran and the ongoing revolution in Bahrain.

As revolutions sweep through the Arab world, the Saudi kingdom - a close ally of the US - is facing unprecedented demands for reform.

The push by women to be allowed to drive - and to work, travel and open a bank account without the permission of a close male relative - is part of that process, but there is also unrest in the minority Shiite community and concern about rising rates of unemployment among those under 30.

One of the organisers of the women's driving protests, 33-year-old Manal al-Sharif, last week posted an open letter to King Abdullah, asking that he end the ban.

She urged women with international driving licences to take to the roads yesterday - the first anniversary of the re-energised campaign for reform.

But reform is almost guaranteed to take a back seat to concerns about succession in the royal family and increasing rivalry between the king's sons.

''The advanced age of Saudi Arabia's ruling elite virtually ensures that the kingdom will undergo a series of leadership changes in the coming years, throwing an already troubled region into further turmoil,'' Simon Henderson of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy wrote in Foreign Policy magazine.

Mohammad Fahad al-Qahtani, an activist, economics professor and frequent critic of Prince Nayef's Interior Ministry, told the Los Angeles Times in April that ''the problem is an ageing leadership and a second generation that's really corrupt. The near future of this country is gloomy.''

Prince Nayef's body was expected to arrive in Jeddah yesterday, to be buried after afternoon prayers in Mecca.