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Police crack down on Saudi protest

2013-10-28 10:45

DEFIANCE IN THE KINGDOM: A female driver defies a ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. Despite support, many women were deterred from participating due to a large police presence. Image: AFP

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - Saudi activists said more than 60 women answered a call to a rare show of defiance against the conservative kingdom's ban on female drivers.

Saudi professor and campaigner Aziza Youssef said the group has received 13 videos showing female drivers behind the wheel.

If the numbers are accurate, the protest was the most successful yet by Saudi women demanding the right to drive. Many female drivers were discouraged from participating due to a large police presence.


Video: No Woman No Drive

A male Saudi comedian created an hilarious YouTube video in support of the women's driving campaign. The video is a parody of Bob Marley's 'No Woman No Cry' titled 'No Woman No Drive'.

Comedian Hisham Fageeh's video is gently, scathingly, sarcastic, topical and bashes the ridiculous notion raised by an Islamic cleric that driving could "damage a woman’s ovaries".

In the run-up to the October 26 driving campaign interior ministry spokesperson Mansour al-Turki warned that anybody disturbing public order would be dealt with forcefully. A security official said authorities arrested 14 activists and that there were roadblocks and a significant police presence in Riyadh.


Youssef said she received calls from a top official with close links to interior minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef calling for an end to the campaign. She also claimed that "two suspicious cars" followed her: "I don't know from which party - they were not in a government car."

Though no Saudi law bans women from driving they cannot apply for a driving licence and have to rely on a driver or male relatives to move around.

Powerful clerics who have influence with the monarchy enforce the driving ban, warning that breaking it would "spread licentiousness". A prominent cleric caused a stir when he said in September that medical studies showed driving could harm a woman's ovaries.

The kingdom's first major driving protest was in 1990 when 50 women drove their car. They were jailed for a day and lost both their passport and their job. 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.


Despite the police presence, the atmosphere appeared more tolerant in 2013 and state newspapers provided daily commentary on the issue, a first for the kingdom's media. Reforms made by the monarchy since the 2011 protest may have readied the deeply conservative nation for change.

Women have been posting videos of themselves driving since the campaign's website was launched in September 2013, enraging conservatives in the country who accused the government of not doing anything to stop them from flouting the religious ban, though in October 2013 two women were pulled over by police who made them sign a letter stating they would not drive or be in a car with a female driver.

Their husbands were called to take them home.

Conservative clerics, angry that the government is not cracking down on female drivers, protested in October against an online petition campaign, which claims to have more than 16 000 signatures.
Read more on:    saudi arabia  |  protest

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