Detained Saudi blogger sees momentum for women drivers
Saudi women plan a rolling protest through Riyadh and other cities Oct. 26 in defiance of a ban on women driving.
A Saudi female blogger who was detained last week for filming women driving through Riyadh says she believes a campaign to to let women drive— which will culminate in a rolling protest Oct. 26 — is gaining momentum in various levels of society.
Eman Al-Nafjan, who writes the blog Saudiwoman, was stopped by police while tweeting as she filmed a female friend behind the wheel.
She tells CNN that her concern over being stopped was eased when she saw that “police were smiling and easygoing, and their attitude was very positive. The police were really nice to us.”
Al-Nafjan says she was required to sign two documents, one saying that would no longer get into a car with a woman driving, and another that she would no longer film women driving.
When asked if she would adhere to the agreements, Al-Nafjan tells CNN that “it doesn’t matter whether or not I go out. This isn’t about me. This is a people’s movement. This is not about me. This is about many women.”
Women technically are not banned by Saudi law from driving, they are only prevented from getting Saudi driver’s licenses or using foreign licenses. Because of the ban, Saudi women must rely on male spouse, relatives or chauffeurs to provide transportation.
Last week in London, Hillary Rodham Clinton expressed support for Saudi women in their campaign, the Associated Press reports.
“I’m all for it,” Clinton said. “It is an issue that is symbolic.” She added that the ban is “hard to even rationalize” in today’s world.
Al-Nafjan tells The New York Times blog The Lede that even the officers who stopped them expressed their support for female drivers. She adds that the officers had only stopped them because of her live Twitter reporting on the protest drive.
The Oct. 26 driving protest through Riyadh and other Saudi cities is being promoted on the website Oct26driving.com. The petition, called “I support women drivers on 26 October 2013,” says:
Since there is no justification for the Saudi government to prohibit adult women citizens who are capable of driving cars from doing so, we urge the state to provide appropriate means for women seeking the issuance of permits and licenses to apply and obtain them.
There have been two major challenges to the driving ban in past three decades. In 1990, police cracked down on 47 female drivers, firing many of the protesters from government jobs and barring them from traveling outside the country. In 2011 a Saudi woman was sentenced to 10 lashes for driving, the Saudi blog Riyadh Bureau notes.
A larger protest by more than 50 women that same year, at the height of the Arab Spring, was largely ignored by police.
There are also indications that the once solid wall of opposition by the Saudi government and among ordinary Saudis is beginning to crumble, however slowly.
Sheikh Abdulatif al-Sheikh, the head of the morality police, recently told Reuters that there was no text in the documents making up sharia law that bars women from driving.
One YouTube video of woman driving through Riyadh recently featured male drivers pulling alongside and showing a “thumbs up” sign.