A couple of weeks back an event page was created on Facebook calling on women to drive their cars on June 17th. The page was started by a group of individuals, one of whom was Manal Al Sharif. As news of the page got around, it caused a lot of controversy and more Facebook pages. The pages that were created are reflective of the different types of reaction such a call has caused in Saudis. One of the pages is a campaign for Saudi to whip women who drive on June 17th and another is simply an anti women driving campaign page. The former has over 1900 supporters and the latter has 2800 supporters. On top of that we have a sheikh Dr. Al Habdan who has made it his personal mission to make sure no woman drives in Saudi. He has called on the PVPV to stop these “rebellious women”. Many of those opposing women driving claim that it is a Zionist/Western/ Iranian/Shia conspiracy to disrupt Saudi society and corrupt the morals and honor of Saudi women. Also that any woman that speaks out for lifting the ban is not a pure Saudi but rather a woman who is nontribal or an immigrant. Because according to them no pure Saudi woman wants to drive.
So this is what Manal Al Sharif was up against and yet she courageously kept on going. Here is Manal on CNN. She later posted a video with instruction on how to participate in the June 17th movement :
1- There will be no gathering or demonstrations. Each woman that wants to participate should just get in her car and go about her daily business without the driver.
2- Only women who have valid driving licenses from other countries are to drive.
3- That there are volunteers who will teach other women to drive until the government sets up an official system for women to obtain local driving licenses
4- Everyone should drive with their safety belts on and drive carefully.
5- Women who drive are encouraged to videotape it and upload it to Youtube.
Then she addresses Saudi men. She thanks those that support the cause. For those Saudi men who oppose it, she calls on their famous Arab chivalry and graciousness to not stand in the way of women. She tells them that there is no threat in a woman driving. She asks them if they are happy about the current situation where women are forced to be at the mercy of unreliable drivers or stand on the pavement in the hot sun waiting for a taxi. Manal told them this is your opportunity to show the world how you are capable of respecting women and being civil.
Most importantly Manal points out that the traffic laws say nothing about the gender of the driver. And that King Abdullah, Prince Naif and Prince Sultan all have issued statement where they said that women driving is not a governmental issue but rather a cultural and societal one.
Brave Manal later wanted it to take it a step further and actually went out driving and posted the video on May 19th. The video is of her driving a car in the Eastern Region with Wajeha Al Huwaider in the passenger seat. They spoke about how AlRiyadh newspaper had a piece that morning on how a woman saved her brother by driving his car when he had an epileptic fit in the driver’s seat.
Anyhow the next day when she drove a car again this is what happened according to an interview just published by Alhayat newspaper:
Mamal spoke to the newspaper via telephone from her place of detention:, she had been stopped from five in the afternoon until seven o’clock in the evening, and then contact with the newspaper was lost. She had reported that she was driving along with her brother and his wife and their children. They were stopped by traffic police who had seen that she was holding the steering wheel. She said: «He asked me if I was a foreigner, and when I replied no, he asked for the car registration. So I gave him my license and my brother’s license with the car registration. He asked: “Don’t you know the country’s system? I asked him if there is any reason to ban me as a woman from driving my own car». She added: «I told him: There is no law that prevents women from driving a car».
She said: «The traffic police called the PVPV, who asked us to ride with them in their car, but I refused, because what I’ve done does not fall under their jurisdiction, and the fact that driving is not a moral crime within the authority of the Commission». She said: «After an hour the traffic police allowed my brother’s wife and children to leave». She noted that the two men from the PVPV demanded that she and her brother get in their car so that they can take then to the traffic police station.
Al Hayat Newspaper also reported that the spokesman for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, Mohsen M. Al Qafari, stated that the issue will be resolved through other governmental entities and that their presence in these cases is only for support, but not essential».
Some of the interesting reactions on Twitter while and after Manal was detained:
Thamer Al Marzouki referring to when he went himself to support Manal as soon as news of her detention broke:
I was told at the crime investigation center that she had been transferred to traffic, and there I met Khuloud Al Fahad and Haifa Khaled who both refused to stay silent and said: No, Manal is our countrywoman and we will stand by her.
Kholoud Al Fahad tweeted:
Manal related how humiliatingly the PVPV treated her, and they were degrading to us too as we waited outside. They treated us as if we were an abomination of Satan.
Manal was later released that night. However as I’m writing this at 2:15 am, her campaign’s Twitter account reports that she is being taken away by two women prison officer escorted by police.