Saudi Women Driving: Shifting Gears

The campaign for women driving has slowed down almost to a halt since the big push last June, but the issue is now making a comeback as activists seek a different route. On Saturday, two women filed lawsuits against the government for refusing to issue them driver’s licenses and banning them from driving a car.

If you have been following this story, you will probably remember one of these two woman: Manal al-Sharif was detained last year for her leading role in the driving campaign. Her lawyer is prominent human rights lawyer Abdulrahman al-Lahem who told al-Hayat daily that the court, aka the Board of Grievances, has accepted to look into the case.

The lawsuits represent an interesting shift in strategy by women rights activists who in the past preferred to petition the government rather than to confront it.

It is still way too early to predict how this case would play out in the court or how the government will choose to react, but it is definitely worth watching. Also worth watching is to see if other women decide to follow the same steps and file more suits against the interior ministry over the driving ban. More on this story in the upcoming few days…

About these ads

Saudi Women Granted Right to Vote

Yes, you read that headline right. Saudi women will be allowed to vote and run in the next municipal elections. They will also be appointed to the Shoura Council in its next term. As I said on Twitter yesterday, this is big news for women in Saudi Arabia any way you look at it. You can read more in this blogpost that I wrote on NPR’s The Two-way blog. I have also created a storify to collect the reactions from people that I follow on Twitter that you can read after jump.

Continue reading

Here and there

  • The Guardian sent their south Asia correspondent Jason Burke to Saudi Arabia for a special series on the country. While I think the overall reporting of the series leaves something to be desired, it was the third part of the series that made the headlines locally. Sheikh Saad al-Shethri (remember him?) said he intends to sue the paper because he claims that they misquoted him.
  • The families of detainees protested earlier today outside the ministry of interior. A number of men, women and children have been arrested. ACPRA condemend the arrests and repeated their call on the minister and senior officials to be fired and tried.
  • Rasheed Al-Khiraif notes the decrease in fertility rate in the country and asks if Saudis need to use contraceptives. I think the answer to that question is pretty obvious.
  • It’s funny/sad how local media are finally able to discuss things like closing shops during prayer. I wrote about this here on the blog six years ago.
  • Eman al-Nafjan takes a moment to reflect on what happened regarding the issue of women driving over the past few weeks. Good read.

On June 17

  • Saudi women did drive on June 17. More than 50 of them drove, and the day went by peacefully for the most part. Check out my post for NPR’s Two-way blog to read more and hear from some of the women who got behind the wheel and defied the ban.
  • I somehow made Foreign Policy’s Twitterati 100 list for the most influencial people on Twitter, and what’s great about it is that I’m in good company.
  • Speaking of Foreign Policy, they published a good piece by Ebtihal Mubarak looking into the historical background of the demands for women driving in the country.
  • Remember when I asked if there was hope for Saudi Arabia? ColdRevolt thinks there is none. She says, “Our society is not only backward for debating a basic human right, but looking at its reaction to the revolutionary movements across the Arab world, and the uprisings in Bahrain specifically… it’s absolutely hopeless.”

More and more on women driving

  • Photographer Reem Al Faisal mocks the ban on women driving in Arab News by calling women to start riding… camels. “OK, we give up and allow the men to drive cars and allow us what was never denied our grandmothers – camels. Let every household own as many camels as they wish or can afford. Open up schools to teach women how to ride and house and maintain a camel.”
  • Head of the human rights committee in the Shoura Council said the topic of women driving is not open to discussion, even though some citizens have presented a petition to the Council about it. “Women driving is a minor issue,” he said. “It is not a priority for the Council.” This contradicts what his boss said last week. I will ask again: why are we talking about this as if Shoura matters?
  • Farzaneh Milani: “The Saudi regime, like the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan, the military junta in Sudan and the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria, ordains the exclusion of women from the public sphere. It expects women to remain in their “proper place.””
  • Good to see Saudi comedians featured in the New York Times. They are doing some really interesting, creative work. They deserve all this attention and more. Related: my piece on the rise of Arab American standup comedy.
  • This chart from The Economist has been making the rounds on the interwebs. It basically shows the biggest military spenders in the world. According to the chart, Saudi Arabia spends 10.4% of its GDP on defence.
  • Last week I started a summer internship at NPR in Washington DC. My first byline on appeared on their website last Saturday. You can read the story here. As an intern, I’m not allowed to post opinion online. I will still be posting stuff here, just not my personal opinions.

Manal released, Shoura still a joke, and why Islamists are silent

  • Manal al-Sharif has been released on Tuesday. After her release, she released a statement in which announced that she will no longer be involved with the women’s driving campaign that is scheduled for June 17. The campaign, however, is still on track according a statement published on Facebook.
  • Meanwhile, the Shoura Council said the they are ready to discuss the issue of women’s driving if asked to. Very funny. The speaker talks as if his council actually matters, as if they have a say in what does or doesn’t happen in the country. Even funnier, some people did ask the Shoura to discuss the issue. What the Shoura did? They called them to discuss the issue then cancelled the invitation on the same day.
  • You think Saudi Arabia is a dry country? Think again. In the past six months, 243 drivers in Jeddah alone have had their driving licenses withdrawn after they were caught drunk-driving. I wonder what the numbers are like in Riyadh and also the Eastern Province, where legal access to alcohol is just a short drive across the Johnny Walker birdge King Fahad Causeway.
  • Stéphane Lacroix, who wrote extensively about Islamists in Saudi Arabia, says the reason why these have been largely silent during this season of popular uprisings in the region is because the government has effectively co-opted them. The relationship between the regime and Sahwa is mutually beneficial, and neither party is willing to lose the benefits anytime soon.