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Sun 22 May 2011 03:26 PM

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Saudi woman arrested for challenging driving ban

Video showing activist driving in Khobar has attracted more than 500,000 views

Saudi woman arrested for challenging driving ban
A campaign poster for the group sent to Arabian Business. It reads, "I am getting rid of my driver - taking him to the airport."

Saudi authorities arrested a female activist on Sunday who launched a campaign to challenge a ban on women driving in the conservative kingdom and posted a video on the Internet of her driving, activists said.

The YouTube video, posted on Thursday, has attracted more than 500,000 views and shows Manal Alsharif, who learned to drive in the US, driving her car in Khobar in the oil-producing Eastern Province.

"Police arrested her at 3am this morning," said Maha Taher, another female activist who launched her own campaign for women driving four months ago to spread awareness of the issue.

An Eastern Province police spokesperson declined to comment and an interior ministry spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy that does not tolerate any form of dissent and applies an austere version of Sunni Islam in which religious police patrol the streets to ensure public segregation between men and women.

Women in the country are not allowed to drive and must have written approval from a designated guardian - a father, husband, brother or son - to leave the country, work or travel abroad.

The campaign Alsharif launched is aimed at teaching women to drive and encouraging them to start driving from June 17, using foreign-issued licences.

While there is no written law that specifically bans women from driving, Saudi law requires citizens use a locally issued licence while in the country. Such licences are not issued to women, making it effectively illegal for them to drive.

"When the police stopped her they told her she violated the 'norms'. There is no law that says women can't drive in Saudi Arabia and this arrest is unjust. She is a role model for a lot of people and the arrest will provoke her supporters. Now more women want to drive," Taher said.

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Kat 9 years ago

Saudi wants to stem the inflow of migrant workers, and yet one of these streams is drivers for these women - how short sighted is this 'familial' ban on women drivers.

Omar AlSadoon 9 years ago

Women driving won't also fix the problem of poor families who can't afford a driver. 'cause they first have to afford a car and maintain it.

A real solution to save billions of salaries and provide a true development to the culture is to have a reliable public transportation system. This would fix the needs for the poor, and fix traffic congestion, save billions of subsidized gasoline, provide a greener environment and develop the country.

This is a real cause we should be all debating on and pushing for, rather wasting time on less imminent and more luxurious requests like -in my opinion- women driving rights.

Omar A. AlSadoon 9 years ago

Although I'm not against women driving in Saudi Arabia. I believe that it isn't possible as it is just yet.

First of all, the idea of that drivers will not be needed anymore is totally false. A strong evidence is the similar cultures in other GCC countries were both genders drive yet there isn't a house without a driver. We're not seeing any declining rates for maids, are we? So what makes us think we will save billions of riyals out of drivers' salaries?

Who are we fooling? we know our culture well and we know that we won't go out to get bread from the grocery store. We won't be driving our children to their schools. Women will be driving mostly to shop, meet their friends and have fun, which is fundamentally a human right, but not deprived. They still can do that without driving themselves.

Women will need to be technically aware of the car's mechanics, fix a flat tyre and put up with guy's hitting on them. Although this is unethical but its a fact she will have to deal with.