carnegie logo

Babylon & Beyond

Observations from Iraq, Iran,
Israel, the Arab world and beyond

« Previous | Babylon & Beyond Home | Next »

SAUDI ARABIA: Security forces clamp down on those allegedly behind campaign to defy ban on women drivers

Picture 2Saudi Arabian authorities have clamped down on women's rights activists after a bold call by a group of women in the ultra-conservative kingdom on social media sites on the Internet to break a ban on women driving.

Saudi police arrested at least two people linked to the campaign and shut down a Facebook page meant to promote civil disobedience, according to the Abu Dhabi-based English-language newspaper the National.

Saudi security forces loyal to King Abdullah, whose family has ruled the kingdom for 80 years, arrested Manal Sharif, a 32-year-old computer security consultant, and her brother, the National reported.

On Facebook and Twitter, activists had launched a campaign calling on women in Saudi Arabia who hold international drivers' licenses to get behind the wheel on Friday, June 17, and drive their cars to protest the country's ban on women driving.

Their call is a daring initiative. Women who have defied the ban in the past have lost their jobs, been banned from travel and denounced by members of the country's powerful extremist religious establishment.

The women say their planned move is not a protest nor an attempt to break the law, but rather a bid to claim basic rights as human beings.

"We women in Saudi Arabia, from all nationalities, will start driving our cars by ourselves," read a statement posted on the group's Facebook site, I will Drive Starting June 17, before Saudi censors took it down. "We are not here to break the law or demonstrate or challenge the authorities. We are here to claim one of our simplest rights. We have driver's licenses and we will abide by traffic laws."

Their Facebook group had garnered more than 11,000 supporters and around 3,000 people follow the group's account on Twitter.

Critics say Saudi, a staunch U.S. ally and largest exporter of oil in the world, has a horrific record on human rights and women's liberties. In addition, it's said to be pumping cash into global Islamic organizations that promote extremist Islamic thinking across the Islamic world, including the nascent democracies in Egypt and Tunisia.  

But some Saudis themselves are trying to challenge the conservativism of their own country.

On recent incident suggests things are already heating up on the women's ban driving issue. A few days ago, 30-year-old Saudi housewife and mother Najla Hairiri told Agence-France Presse how she drove her car in the streets of the Saudi Red Sea port city of Jeddah for four days before getting stopped.

She took the decision "to defend her belief that Saudi women should be allowed to drive" and said she wasn't afraid of being hauled into detention for flouting the driving ban because she felt she was setting a good example for her daughter and other young Saudi women.

"I don't fear being arrested because I am setting an example that my daughter and her friends are proud of,'' she said, adding that she also offers driving lessons for women. 

Below is a video clip showing Saudi women's right activist Wajeha Huwaidar driving her car in a rural part of the kingdom on International Women's Day in 2008 and talking about the problems that come with not letting women drive in Saudi Arabia. 


Saudi Arabia adheres to a strict interpretation of the ultra-conservative Wahabi version of Sunni Islam. Aside from being banned from driving, Saudi women face a myriad of other restrictions. They cannot travel on their own without getting authorization from a male guardian, cannot receive an education without male approval, and are not allowed to cast ballots in municipal elections -- the only kind of elections that currently exist in the absolute monarchy.

If the call for defying the driving ban on women materializes on June 17, it will not be the first time women in Saudi Arabia will have gotten behind the wheel and taken to the streets in protest. On Nov. 6, 1990, a group of women drove through the streets of the Saudi capital Riyadh before getting pulled over and stopped.

Several of the women reportedly lost their jobs and were denounced as by powerful religious figures.

Recent comments by Saudi religious clerics about the June 17 campaign suggest the sight of women driving in the streets will go down with the religious clergymen as badly as it did in 1990.

Saudi cleric Mohammed Nujaimi told Bloomberg News that the women's plan was “against the law" and that driving does “more harm than good” to women, because they might intermingle with males who are not their relatives, such as mechanics and gas-station attendants.

 -- Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: A screenshot of the Facebook group  "I Will Drive Starting June 17". Credit: Facebook. Video credit: YouTube

Comments () | Archives (11)

The Saudi royal family are idiots. By being so firmly anti-change that they can't even concede on a little issue such as females driving (which most in power have at least SAID they realize is outdated and irrational) they're validating the point that there can be no change in the kingdom without eradication of the monarchy itself.
Instead of bribing his subjects with two months salary and a day off, the king could tackle big issues in the kingdom himself, addressing all the concerns of the opposition groups and taking the credit for all the improvements himself, saying, "Look how in tune we are with the people's needs. You don't want democracy- a good king will take care of business without all the gridlock of the democratic process. The royal family is the force moving this country forward"
I'm beginning to think the Saudis wrote that secret handbook every Arab leader seems to have when it comes to movements of change.

@Desert nomad

I agree that Saudi Wahhabism is one of the most extremist brands of Islamic doctrine, but it's not like other forms of FUNDAMENTALIST Islam are much better. Look no further than other Sharia-infested regions like Egypt & Pakistan to see that ANY form of Sharia Law is Draconian and barbaric:


% of Muslims who want DEATH PENALTY for those leaving Islam:

Egypt (84%)

Pakistan (82%)


% of Muslims endorsing STONING TO DEATH of adulterers (98% WOMEN):

Egypt (82%)

Pakistan (76%)



Would someone please give the Saudis a calendar?
It is 2011 not 1120.

Re: dancing scorpion and others who have made comments, firstly Saudi follow the 'wahabbi' sect which is different to traditional Islam is also banned as traditional Islam gave rights to women. These camel riding donkeys who became rich overnight due to oil are ignorant bedouins and the royal family are linked to mr Wahhabi- please google mr w as he is part of this mess. I am an expat and can truly say I have found it easier to follow traditional Islam in uk rather than Saudi. Driving is the least of my concern, I can't even walk outside, what use is a car when I can't use my feet!!!

Sarah and Esther...Hmmm

Several studies in America have shown that "women" are the cause of more traffic incidents than males. The answer to Arabia's problem is simply to refuse licenses to "women." No one, after all, wants the intermingling of women at the gas station with ignorant, horny men. And women having to fill their own gas tanks and coming home stinking of gas sounds really repulsive. They also shouldn't be allowed to smoke. Tabacco and "ganga," quite popular in Arabia, adversely affect the unborn. Islam should be respected for the
medieval, non-democratic blood religion that it is. It simply doesn't fit well in the post Magna Carta age of the unwashed, loud-mouthed masses. Therefore, I always strongly urge Muslims not to immigrate to Europe or America. Stay home, stay where you belong, I say. Good advice is very hard to come by, anymore.

Saudi Arabia is the same fascist state whose RELIGIOUS POLICE in 2002 forced 15 young schoolgirls back into a BURNING school building because they were not "properly covered" with veils, burqas, etc.

The girls all perished in the fire, in a blatant example of the BARBARIC nature of a Draconian code known as Sharia Law. Sharia Law places ridiculous, twisted rules over & above human rights and cannot be tolerated under any circumstances.

As for those claiming Iran is somehow less fascist than Saudi Arabia it should be pointed out that the ONLY difference is that Saudi Arabia is a SUNNI fascist state & Iran is a SHI'ITE fascist state. If you dont believe me, go to YouTube and do a search for the phrase "Neda Agha Soltan Killed" and you will see a chilling video showing the death throes of a brave young Iranian woman who was brutally gunned down in the streets of Tehran by Iran's RELIGIOUS POLICE aka Adolf Ahmadinejad's thuggish goon squad.

Sarah, you are %100 on the target. Isn't it amazingly clear how Iran phobia has become a norm and a daily occurrence here!


Why are we in Afghanistan again? The US needs to be in Saudi Arabia , Bahrain, and Yemen to not only free the people from the dictators of those countries and their ultra-conservative Wahabi version of Sunni Islam, but to also secure their oil and prevent the funding of Islamic extremist groups with money from oil sales.

It really is no surprise that Osama Bin Laden and his suicidal cronies who flew planes into the Twin Towers were from these countries in particular. An environment of extremism fosters more extremism and allows it to spread like a cancer.

If Iran was preventing women from driving, stories like this would have been on the front page of every western newspaper.


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...

Recent News
Introducing World Now |  September 23, 2011, 8:48 am »



About the Contributors