Earlier this week, a Saudi Arabian woman protesting the country's ban against women driving was imprisoned. In response, Saudi women are uploading videos of themselves defying the ban in solidarity. The "Arab spring" has hit the road.
Manal al Sharif, the 32-year-old IT specialist who launched the "Women2Drive" campaign, had urged other women with foreign driver's licenses to take to the roads on June 17 in peaceful protest, and posted a video of herself driving to YouTube last week, garnering 500,000 views. Authorities in Saudi Arabia — including police from the religious organization known as the Committee for the Preservation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice — arrested al Sharif Sunday, charged her with several crimes and ordered she be detained for five days.
Today, officials said al Sharif's detention was being extended another 10 days and other reports indicate police have threatened to take her 5-year-old son. "This is a message that any woman who dares to drive her car will face the same destiny," her lawyer Waleed Aboul Khair told The Associated Press.
The video below is one of several posted anonymously online in Facebook and YouTube pages supporting al Sharif, showing women simply driving, usually clad in the traditional full-length burka, some with only their eyes exposed. In one, a woman whispers to a young girl in English: "This is important. Don't be afraid."
While Saud Arabian women aren't allowed to hold high government office, vote or go in many public places without a man's permission, the driving ban stands out as an inane crime even among other countries that treat women as sub-human. No other nation on Earth bars women from driving; in Iran, where women face a similar welter of Islamic-derived rules, laws and punishments, women not only drive but compete in rally racing. Saudi Arabia's ruling monarchy has indicated it wanted to modify or drop the ban — but has never formally attempted to do so, likely due to fear of a backlash from religious leaders.
And with other Arabic nations rising up against their oppressors, Saudi Arabia has been cracking down on any sign of dissent against the monarchy's rule. Thankfully, just like the United States backed protestors in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East fighting for freedom, it's standing strong with Manal al Sharif and...wait, what's that, spokesman for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton?
"There's an active debate on a lot of these social issues in Saudi Arabia, and we trust the government of Saudi Arabia to give careful consideration to these voices of its citizens as they speak about issues of concern."
There are 12 million women in Saudi Arabia who've waited their whole lives for men to decide if they should drive. If some of them can be brave enough to risk arrest for daring to take the wheel, maybe the United States could put a bit more courage in its tank.