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Saudi women get behind the wheel to protest against driving ban

Women have been driving in Saudi Arabia to protest against females not being issued licences.

Saudi woman driving today.
Saudi woman driving today.
Image: AP Photo

SAUDI ACTIVISTS  SAY more than 60 women claimed to have answered their call today to get behind the wheel in a rare show of defiance against a ban on female driving.

Saudi professor and campaigner Aziza Youssef said the group has received 13 videos and another 50 phone messages from women showing or claiming they had driven. She said they have no way to verify the messages.

No arrests

If the numbers are accurate, this year’s campaign is the most successful effort yet by Saudi women demanding the right to drive. Youssef said they have not received any reports of arrests or women being ticketed by police.

A security official said that authorities did not arrest or fine any female drivers today.

However, there have been a few roadblocks along the way.

Youssef said she and four other prominent women activists received phone calls this week from a top official with close links to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, warning them not to drive today.

She also said that “two suspicious cars” have been following her everywhere all day. “I don’t know from which party they are from. They are not in a government car,” she said.

Laws

Though no specific Saudi law bans women from driving, women are not issued licenses. They mostly rely on drivers or male relatives to move around.

Powerful clerics who hold far-reaching influence over the monarchy enforce the driving ban, warning that breaking it will spread “licentiousness.” A prominent cleric caused a stir when he said last month that medical studies show that driving a car harms a woman’s ovaries.

The kingdom’s first major driving protest came in 1990 when some 50 women drove their cars. They were jailed for a day, had their passports confiscated and lost their jobs. In June 2011, about 40 women got behind the wheel in several cities in a protest sparked when a woman was arrested after posting a video of herself driving.

The atmosphere appeared more tolerant this year and state newspapers for the first time have run near daily commentary on the issue. Reforms made by the monarchy since the last 2011 driving campaign may have readied the deeply conservative nation for change.

Changes include allowing women to sit on the national advisory council and a decision by King Abdullah to permit women to vote and run in municipal elections in 2015.

Deputy editor-in-chief of the state-backed newspaper Saudi Gazette, Somayya Jabarti, said she envies her male co-workers who can jump in their cars and leave the office while she has to coordinate ahead of time for a driver or relative.

“The struggle is more that people should have the option to choose,” she said. “The logo of this current driving campaign is that women’s driving is a choice. ”

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Associated Press

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