As I mentioned last month, the arrest of Manal al-Sherif for Driving While Female led Saudi activists to set June 17 as a day on which other women would also go out and drive around, to show solidarity and protest the no-driving rules. About 40 did so that day, and, reportedly, "dozens of women have since driven through the capital Riyadh and other cities."
Despite the apparent failure of Satan to take this opportunity to establish dominion over mankind, or even cause any fender-benders, the spectre of women actually out driving on their own seems to be sufficiently terrifying that Saudi police are now starting to arrest them. Saudi activists said that five women who dared to drive in Jiddah, on the Red Sea coast, had been detained on Tuesday. (All have since been released, though only after signing a pledge not to drive again.) The group Saudi Women for Driving issued a statement suggesting that the government had waited a while after June 17 in hopes that international attention would subside before making any arrests.
The reports say that Saudi Arabia has no written law that forbids women to drive, but that there is a religious fatwa on the issue. My understanding (which is limited) is that in theory, a fatwa is a decree issued by senior clerics of great learning and wisdom on topics of major importance to the Muslim faith, just like the Pope sometimes issues an "encyclical" on whatever those are about, and believers treat them as more-or-less binding. Occasionally, you do hear that a fatwa has issued for some less momentous purpose, such as:
- ordering people not to use Koran verses as ringtones;
- ordering a man with 86 wives to divorce 82 of them; and
- ordering people not to shoot guns in the air as a form of celebration (not really a religious issue, but an ayatollah said he thought it was "annoying").
I apparently haven't seen any papal encyclicals I thought were funny, although I did once point out a papal copyright claim.
Activists said they did not know whether this week's arrests meant a wider crackdown was coming, but said they would not be intimidated and that the arrests would only "encourage more women to get behind the wheel." Just a suggestion, ladies, but maybe the next time you do, you should keep going until you get someplace a little less medieval, such as anywhere.