Manal al-Sharif defies the Saudi Arabian driving ban for women
Written by Text and Information from Wikipedia    Friday, 03 June 2011 16:39   
Governance & Law

Manal Al Sharif

 

Manal al-Sharif is a women's rights activist from Saudi Arabia who helped start a women's right to drive campaign in 2011. A women's rights activist who had previously filmed herself driving, Wajeha al-Huwaider, filmed al-Sharif driving a car as part of the campaign. The video was posted on YouTube and Facebook. Al-Sharif was detained and released on 21 May and rearrested the following day. On 30 May, al-Sharif was released on bail, on the conditions of returning for questioning if requested, not driving and not talking to the media. The New York Times and Associated Press associated the women's driving campaign with the wider pattern of Arab world protests and the long duration of al-Sharif's detention with Saudi authorities' fear of protests.

 

As of 2011, women in Saudi Arabia have limited freedom of movement and in practice are not allowed to drive motor vehicles. In 1990, dozens of women in Riyadh drove their cars in protest, were imprisoned for one day, had their passports confiscated, and some of them lost their jobs. In September 2007, the Association for the Protection and Defense of Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia, co-founded by Wajeha al-Huwaider and Fawzia al-Uyyouni, gave a 1,100 signature petition to King Abdullah asking for women to be allowed to drive. On International Women's Day 2008, Huwaider filmed herself driving and received international media attention after the video was posted on YouTube. Inspired by the Arab Spring, a woman from Jeddah, Najla Hariri, started driving in the second week of May 2011, stating "Before in Saudi, you never heard about protests. [But] after what has happened in the Middle East, we started to accept a group of people going outside and saying what they want in a loud voice, and this has had an impact on me."

2011 women driving campaign

In 2011, a group of women including Manal al-Sharif started a Facebook campaign named "Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself" or Women2Drive that says that women should be allowed to drive. The campaign calls for women to start driving from 17 June 2011. As of 21 May 2011, about 12,000 readers of the Facebook page had expressed their support. Al-Sharif describes the action as acting within women's rights, and "not protesting". Wajeha al-Huwaider was impressed by the campaign and decided to help.

In late May, Al-Sharif drove her car in Khobar with al-Huwaider filming. The video was posted to YouTube and Facebook. In the video, al-Sharif stated, "This is a volunteer campaign to help the girls of this country [learn to drive]. At least for times of emergency, God forbid. What if whoever is driving them gets a heart attack?" She was detained by the religious police (CPVPV) on 21 May and released after six hours. As of 23 May 2011, about 600,000 people had watched the video.

The YouTube video of al-Sharif's drive became inaccessible at its original location, the Facebook page for the campaign was deleted, and the Twitter account used by al-Sharif was "copied and altered". Supporters republished the original video and Facebook page and a summary of al-Sharif's five recommended rules for the 17 June campaign were published on a blog and by the New York Times.

On 22 May, al-Sharif was detained again and the Director General of Traffic Administration, Major-General Suleiman Al-Ajlan, was questioned by journalists regarding traffic regulations related to women driving. Al-Ajlan stated that the journalists should "put the question" to members of the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia. RTBF suggested that al-Sharif had been sentenced to five days' imprisonment.

The New York Times described al-Sharif's campaign as a "budding protest movement" that the Saudi government tried to "swiftly extinguish". Associated Press said that Saudi authorities "cracked down harder than usual on al-Sharif, after seeing her case become a rallying call for youths anxious for change" in the context of the 2010–2011 Middle East and North Africa protests. Both news organisations attributed the long duration of al-Sharif's detention with Saudi authorities' fear of a wider protest movement in Saudi Arabia.

On 23 May, another woman was detained for driving a car. She drove with two women passengers in Ar Rass and was detained by traffic police in the presence of the CPVPV. She was released after signing a statement that she would not drive again. In reaction to al-Sharif's arrest, several more Saudi women published videos of themselves driving during the following days.

On 24 May, Amnesty International declared al-Sharif to be a prisoner of conscience and called for her immediate and unconditional release. On 26 May, authorities said that al-Sharif would remain in detention until 5 June 2011, according to lawyer Waleed Aboul Khair. Al-Sharif was conditionally freed on 30 May. Her lawyer Adnan al-Saleh said that she was charged with "inciting women to drive" and "rallying public opinion". As of 31 May 2011, it is unknown whether or not the charges were dropped. The conditions of Al-Sharif's release include bail, returning for questioning if requested, not driving and not talking to the media. As possible reasons for al-Sharif's early release, The National cited al-Sharif having written a letter to King Abdullah, 4,500 Saudis signing an online petition to the King, and "an outpouring of indignation and disbelief by both Saudis and critics abroad that Ms al-Sharif was jailed for something that is not a moral or criminal offence."

 

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