Manal Al Sherif, according to first reports of her sentence, was supposed to be released today. The local media has taken an official stance on Manal’s case. While columnists in these very same schizophrenic newspapers have taken the opposite position by supporting Manal and advocating lifting the ban on women driving. In one estimate, there were over 60 columns supporting Manal on Tuesday and Wednesday. Meanwhile the official stance is that Manal has confessed and repented. The story goes that Manal has broken down sobbingly and said that she was mislead and misinformed by a group of Saudi women, some of whom are in the USA to go ahead with the campaign and driving video. It’s also claimed that she requested that they be brought in for questioning too. Her support campaign and personal friends have denied all this and insist that Manal remains strong. Manal’s lawyer has not denied or confirmed either reports but he did make the following statement:
My client reserves her right in not making any comment at the moment and will take legal steps against any information that goes against reporting ethics and professionalism. He added: What concerns me as a lawyer is to raise the humanitarian sense in dealing with the case until my client is able to return home. “
The latest news is that Sabq, a local news organization claims that it has insider information that Manal’s prison sentence has been extended ten day, starting from Thursday 26th, May.
The ultra-conservatives have come out in full force against Manal. Sheikh Nasser Al Omer gave a sermon on the matter of women driving. At the beginning of the video he claims that he read in an American newspaper about an American expert who says that the USA is drawing up plans to occupy Saudi oil fields, and that the Iranian TV channels are also making threats. So that raising the issue of women driving is not about rights or whether or not it’s prohibited by Islam; it is a conspiracy against the country, started by Shia who are supported by liberals, secularists, Jews and the West. His argument is that the women driving issue always gets heated when the country is under threat, referring back to the 1990 women driving protest during the Gulf war and now.
Then you have Sheikh Monjed who is originally Syrian describe Manal as a sinful, conspiring and malicious hypocrite and those who support her as evil, infidels, and licentious, conspiring, immoral people who only follow their desires and whims. His words were so harsh and heavy on the accusations that there was a backlash and the next day he issued a statement where he does not apologize but at least shows some remorse. He insists that June 17th was not chosen randomly. That the campaign date is evidence of a Shia conspiracy because it falls on the Hijri date 15th of Rajab which he claims is a Shia holiday or has religious implications for Shia, very Dan Brown, Islamic version.
There are many more but the above had the biggest impact including another Shiekh, Dr. Ghazi Al Shamari, calling on the authorities to publicly lash Manal in a women-only mall. He also backtracked the next day by saying that since Manal has apologized we should show her mercy and forgive her.
On the other hand, you have sheikhs who have come out in support of Manal and lifting the driving ban. Shiekh Dr. Eissa Al Ghaith, a judge, posted an article on his Facebook page in support of women driving. Sheikh Dr. Mohammed Al Ahmari was very outspoken in his support for Manal and lifting the ban on driving. And in the recent past you had several sheikhs including the highly respected Albani who laughed at the suggestion that women driving should be prohibited in Islam. Sheikh Ahmed Bin Baz also supports women driving and says that his father’s original decree banning it is no longer relevant.
Many members of the Royal family also support lifting the ban. King Abdullah in a 2005 interview with Barbra Walters said that it was only a matter of time and that Saudi women have to be patient. His daughter Princess Adelah stated to the press that she hopes that the ban will be lifted. Princess Loloah, daughter of the great King Faisal told France 24 that she would like to see the ban lifted.
Despite all this support for lifting the ban, the Deputy Interior Minister Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz issued a statement this morning:
“Any claims may be received from any party, regardless of them being right or wrong .. but women driving cars in Saudi Arabia has already been decided on in 1411 to not allow women driving. This for us, the Ministry of the Interior, continues to stand.” He added: “Our mission is to implement the system, but whether this action is right or wrong is not for us to say.”
However award winning human rights lawyer Abdulrahmin Allahim see things differently. He wrote a very careful and studied analysis that shows that the 1411 Hijri (1990 Gregorian) law is cancelled because first of all, a year after the 1411 law the Kingdom issued the Principle Governmental System which abrogates all that came before it. Another point is that Saudi signed the international Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women agreement, CEDAW, in 2000. And since driving is not Islamically prohibited as an act for men nor for women, the ban goes against the agreement.
Human rights activist, Waleed Abu Alkhair has gathered over 1300 signatures from Saudi citizens, stating their full names and occupation, and the list is still growing. The plan is to deliver the petition to the Saudi Royal Court. Abualkhair, referring to the excuse that Saudi men are uncontrollable wolves tweeted:
And it has become clear that our society is not as bad as is portrayed to the outside world. A woman has driven and no one has harmed her except the politicians.
Writer, Khalaf Al Harbi, also took up this argument and tore it apart in a piece that was so good that Arab News translated it.
I want to end this post by noting who Manal is. Manal comes from the tribe that is known as the descendents of the Prophet (PBUH), so no one can say that she is an immigrant or an outsider trying to force her culture on us. Lineage aside, Manal is a woman that our country should be proud of. She is one of the first women in the world to be a Certified Ethical Hacker–EC-Council CISSP–(ISC)² Certified ISO 27001 Implementer and Lead Auditor -BSI & ISO. She is an IT security consultant at the biggest oil company in Saudi, ARAMCO. Here is a link to an interview she did in 2007 on MBC. This is an intelligent capable woman asking for something that should have been a given; driving her own car. Shame on her for speaking out for her right. Shame on her for not putting up with 38,000 SAR (10,000$) annual tax for being a woman in Saudi. Shame on her for standing up for women much less fortunate then her, when she easily could have been quiet in her high-paying job and comfortable compound. Shame on her for being a courageous patriotic woman.