The one country on the planet that does not allow women to drive may soon have a big traffic jam on its hands, if a planned protest goes forward on June 17. That’s the day that activists have set for Saudi women to drive cars.
I would expect traffic to be a total nightmare on that day, not because women can’t drive but just because most of these particular women are going to be really out of practice.
The Associated Press reported on May 21 that Saudi authorities had re-arrested Manal al-Sherif, the woman who launched the recent campaign by not only daring to drive, but daring to post a video of her drive last week on the Internet. She posted the video on a Facebook page that there is no point in looking for now, but the video is freely available on YouTube, which Saudi Arabia apparently doesn’t control.
Al-Sherif was first arrested on the previous Saturday by religious police (this is an official body in Saudi Arabia, not just police who happen to be religious), and was detained for several hours until she agreed to sign a pledge not to drive. She was re-arrested Sunday morning, possibly by a different group of police, and was being detained for “investigation,” according to an official. Her brother, who took the video, was also detained.
The warden of the prison where al-Sherif was being held said she had been charged with “violating the rules and the system by driving her car, roaming the streets of the province.” Well, the video does show her roaming the streets of the province for over eight minutes, that’s true. He didn’t offer specifics as to why that should be a crime. Same for “inciting public opinion,” of which he also accused her.
Public opinion has been incited – over 12,000 people supported the Facebook page while it existed, many other Facebook groups and other campaigns have been set up since, and hundreds of columnists and activists have called on the king to do something. (Given that his forces are currently “doing something” in Bahrain, that might not be the best idea, but hopefully there will be a different outcome here.)
Al Jazeera reported on May 31 that al-Sherif had been released after 10 days in jail. For now, it appears that June 17 is still set as the day that all Saudi women should drive cars. The day on which they will be able to do things like vote is unfortunately further off, but this would be at least a short drive in the right direction.