Saudis Challenge the Driving Ban…Again
The un-elected regime in Saudi Arabia has no authority over the global Muslim community. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that the global Muslim community isn’t widely judged by the behavior of the Saudi regime. In fact, the misdeeds of the regime are often trotted out as an indictment of Muslims and Islam as a whole.
One of the controversial issues often highlighted is the Saudi ban on women driving. Among dozens of Muslim-majority countries, the Kingdom is alone is not allowing women to drive. Islamic doctrine does not prevent women from driving, which may explain the widely ridiculed “justification” offered by a Saudi cleric, who suggested driving “affects the ovaries” and leads to clinical disorders in children whose mothers dare to drive.
But the women–and men–of Saudi Arabia have waged a sustained campaign to lift the infamous ban that includes women bravely driving in defiance. Activists have also opposed the ban with protests, online petitions, and even satire:
After last Saturday’s driving protest, Saudi authorities cracked down on activists, detaining a columnist who supported the ban and fining some of the women who drove in defiance:
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi authorities have detained a columnist who supported ending his country’s ban on women driving, activists said Wednesday.
The activists, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, said Tariq al-Mubarak was called by investigators in the capital Riyadh concerning a stolen car over the weekend. When he arrived at the Interior Ministry’s Criminal Investigation Department on Sunday, he was interrogated instead about his role in a campaign launched by reformers seeking the right of women to drive in the kingdom.
When his friends were informed they could pick him up at the investigator’s office, they too were detained for several hours and questioned over the campaign’s activities, activists said.
Human Rights Watch and activists who know al-Mubarak say he remains in detention with no access to a lawyer. The New York-based organization called for al-Mubarak’s immediate release and on authorities “to stop harassing and trying to intimidate activists and women who defied the driving ban.”
The spokesman for the Interior Ministry, Mansour al-Turki, could not be reached for comment.
In a column published in the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat the day of his arrest, al-Mubarak said extremists are intimidating people from exercising their rights. He said the courts in Saudi Arabia do not have sufficient provisions to deter those who threaten and terrorize others from exercising their freedoms because “rights and freedoms … are not instilled in our culture, nor our interpretation of religion.”
Al-Mubarak, who also works as a schoolteacher, was among a core group of active young Saudis calling for women’s right to drive.
Around 60 women claimed they got behind the wheel Saturday to oppose the ban. The campaign sparked protest by the kingdom’s ultraconservative religious establishment.
The reformers behind the Oct. 26 driving campaign say their efforts are ongoing and that they continue to receive videos by women filming themselves flouting the driving ban.
The activists told The Associated Press that they have been followed for the past several days and are anticipating arrest. They have put in place contingency plans and emergency numbers for journalists and rights organizations to call in case they are detained.
At least two women have been fined recently by police for driving, the activists said. Samia El-Moslimany said she was given a nearly $135 fine for driving in the kingdom, though she has a U.S. driver’s license.
The crackdown overshadows the welcome release of jailed Saudi poet and journalist Hamza Kashgari a few days ago, after he spent 20 months in jail and faced a possible death sentence for “offensive” tweets. Protests are mounting worldwide against the authoritarian regime in the Kingdom, and some analysts predict not only eminent social change, but the possible fall of the regime, despite desperate threats and crackdowns.