A Few Saudi Women Drive Openly In Protest Of Religious Ban

June 17, 2011

Reports coming out of Saudi Arabia today indicate that a few dozen women braved the country's religious ban on women drivers and took the wheel.

About 50 women reported, mostly on Twitter, that they had driven, with some posting videos on YouTube of their drives.

Their actions are the culmination of several weeks of calls for women who have legal driving licenses from other countries to defy the prohibition.

Reports from The New York Times, the Associated Press, and other media indicate little interference with many of the drivers.

Lynsey Addario, a reporter who rode with one Saudi woman driver as a part of the protest, said their car had been stopped by no fewer than six police cars.

Ultimately, she said, the Saudi woman behind the wheel was ticketed for driving without a license and let go.

Two days ago, dozens of women circled the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C., in their cars to call attention to the ban and highlight today's protest.

No other country in the world forbids women from driving, but interpretation of Shariah religious law in the Kingdom of Saud is aggressively enforced by the nation's religious police. They have been seen to beat women whose clothes or hair they deem to be insufficiently modest.

Today's protest had been promoted via social media by a Saudi woman, Manal Al-Sherif, who was arrested, twice, and held for nine days before being released by police.

Also before the protest, a group on Facebook called "the Iqai Campaign" sprung up against the right of women to drive. It suggested, among other actions, that women be whipped if they drove--today or any other day.

While today's action appears to have been peaceful by the reports received so far, repression continues. Only last week, six women were arrested and questioned on charges of that they had driven.

It is unclear how much impact today's action had. A speech against the ban earlier this year by the far more influential Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has had little effect as yet.

But at least it brings to the world's attention the persistence of an absolute ban that clearly deprives the women of Saudi Arabia of freedom, movement, and independence.

Which is most likely the idea.

[The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, AP via Fox News]

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