Saudi women defy drive ban

Published: June 17, 2011
Manal alSherif was arrested for violating public order after she set up a Facebook group urging women to post videos of themselves driving and posted such a video herself.

Manal alSherif was arrested for violating public order after she set up a Facebook group urging women to post videos of themselves driving and posted such a video herself.

RIYADH: A number of Saudi women drove cars on Friday in response to calls for nationwide action to break a traditional ban, unique to the ultra-conservative kingdom, according to reports on social networks.

The call to defy the ban that spread through Facebook and Twitter is the largest en masse action since November 1990, when a group of 47 Saudi women were arrested and severely punished after demonstrating in cars.

“We’ve just returned from the supermarket. My wife decided to start the day by driving to the store and back,” said columnist Tawfiq Alsaif on his Twitter page.

“I took King Fahd Road (Riyadh artery) and then Olaya Street, along with my husband, I decided that the car for today is mine,” Maha al-Qahtani tweeted.

Her husband Mohammed al-Qahtani tweeted that she carried her necessary belongings “ready to go to prison without fear.”

Another woman posted online a video of her driving after midnight Thursday as the first woman to answer the call for protest. The veiled woman drove along nearly-empty main roads until she parked at a supermarket.

“All that we need is to run our errands without depending on drivers,” said the unnamed woman in the video. “I believe that the society is ready to welcome us.”

Police patrols were at normal levels on the sleepy streets of Riyadh on the first day of the weekend, an AFP photographer reported.

Many Saudi women had pledged on Facebook and Twitter to answer the call to defy the deeply entrenched ban.

But instead of staging demonstrations, which are strictly banned in the absolute monarchy, women with driving licences obtained abroad were encouraged to take individual action.

Veteran women’s rights activist Wajiha al-Huwaidar told AFP on Friday that she did not expect a huge turnout as hoped for by sympathisers abroad because of the severe response by officials to women who have taken the lead in recent weeks.

“I do not expect something big as people abroad imagine,” she said, adding that jailing activist Manal al-Sherif and others has scared some women off.

Sharif, a 32-year-old computer scientist, found herself behind bars for two weeks last month after driving in the Eastern Province and posting footage of her actions on the Internet.

Six other women were also briefly detained after being caught learning to drive on an empty plot of land in north Riyadh.

Women in Saudi Arabia face an array of constraints, ranging from having to cover from head to toe in public and needing a male guardian’s permission to travel, to having restricted access to jobs because of strict segregation rules.

The protests are the climax of a two-month online campaign riding the winds of the so-called Arab spring which has spread mass revolts across the region and toppled two regimes.

The main Facebook page campaign, dubbed Women2Drive, says the action will start on Friday and keep going “until a royal decree allowing women to drive is issued.”

“Saudi Arabian authorities must stop treating women as second-class citizens and open the kingdom’s roads to women drivers,” London-based Amnesty International said on Thursday.

“Not allowing women behind the wheel in Saudi Arabia is an immense barrier to their freedom of movement, and severely limits their ability to carry out everyday activities as they see fit, such as going to work or the supermarket, or picking up their children from school,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.

There is no law banning women from driving in the oil-rich kingdom, but the interior ministry imposes regulations based on a fatwa, or religious edict, stipulating women should not be permitted to drive.

The last en masse protest against the ban was held in November 1990 when a group of women stunned Saudi men by driving around Riyadh in 15 cars before being arrested.

The women were provoked at the time by the sight of US female soldiers who were taking part in the first Gulf War driving military vehicles freely in their own country while they are banned.

Some of them reportedly said then that as their country was in war after Iraqi troops invaded neighbouring Kuwait, they felt like “sitting ducks” as they could not drive in case they needed to save their families.

The 47 women who took part in that protest were severely punished, with authorities suspending many from public sector jobs and reprimanding their male guardians.

They also faced a defamatory campaign with pamphlets calling them whores.

“If you get arrested, do not be scared. You will only be asked to sign a pledge” not to drive, read one of several recommendations posted on the campaign’s Facebook page.

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Reader Comments (73)

  • RizwanTKhan
    Jun 17, 2011 - 2:39PM

    Go gals! We, Pakistani men with you.Recommend

  • Jun 17, 2011 - 2:39PM

    I am a Saudi born … mom used to take the cab and did all the shopping … GO WOMEN … show em royal assness that driving is coolRecommend

  • Usman Saeed
    Jun 17, 2011 - 2:54PM

    If everything happens as planned, a lot of Saudi men’s egos would be hurt today. Man it would feel good. This country’s patriarchs are responsible for everything gone wrong with Pakistan and Islam in general. May this bring light.Recommend

  • Rock
    Jun 17, 2011 - 3:32PM

    In india. women are driving auto rikshas, taxis, trains, planes and what not. :)Recommend

  • Timothy
    Jun 17, 2011 - 3:51PM

    A blind man can never see the light !!!Recommend

  • G. Din
    Jun 17, 2011 - 3:55PM

    This male despotism MUST stop! Do not run the lives of your womenfolk when you can barely run your own. LET THEM BREATHE FREE!Recommend

  • Rehan Ali
    Jun 17, 2011 - 4:18PM

    Can some one or the author please elaborate on the fatwa against driving. Why has the fatwa been issued and is there any commandment in the quran or hadith?Recommend

  • Raj
    Jun 17, 2011 - 4:24PM

    @Rock : And India is also one of the most dangerous places for women And also there are several other regions where female rights are much more respected than India.

    Why the hell do we need to drag India in this. Grow up .Recommend

  • Khan
    Jun 17, 2011 - 4:33PM

    You will be very pleased to know that, that’s the case in 95% of the world including in Pakistan. lolRecommend

  • Imran Butt
    Jun 17, 2011 - 4:46PM

    Go Saudi women Go……. The roads must be yours to drive on like any where else in the world. I see Afghani women drive on the roads in Kabul everyday……………..Recommend

  • akash
    Jun 17, 2011 - 5:12PM

    about time… men who practice and preach these cavemen mentality need a kick up on their backside. Recommend

  • NJ
    Jun 17, 2011 - 5:14PM

    Rehman : Is it necessary always to reffer to Quran or Hadith to know what is right in the nature of being human!!!! Can’t you understand a gap of more than 1000 years between what was good then and what is good now!!!! Should not we have rational to feel what is good or what is bad irrespective of these books!!!!Recommend

  • John
    Jun 17, 2011 - 5:15PM

    Top class move… Women are vital part of the economy…. They must be allowed to mobilise and they are not meant to locked in kitchen…Recommend

  • MAD
    Jun 17, 2011 - 5:18PM

    the country would save a fortune on drivers. plus ofcourse with all the rumors of illicit relationships between drivers and the women of the house i think they should have allowed driving a long time ago.Recommend

  • IWriteURead
    Jun 17, 2011 - 5:18PM

    Rock Dear Rock, Why do start comparing India with every other country on the map! Relax dude, this has nothing to do with India :) …chill it out!Recommend

  • Sane
    Jun 17, 2011 - 5:23PM

    @Rehan Ali
    What does driving of women got to do with Quaran. Why to refer religious pages for trivial matters like this? Can you see anything wrong with women driving car? how is that supposed to be written in Quaran? Grow up….get out of the religious myopia and the stone age mindset…..Recommend

  • Zareen
    Jun 17, 2011 - 5:24PM

    Good activism – keep it up! Saudi women need to shake the royals and mullahs! Wake them up! Tell them Enough is Enough!! Recommend

  • Rock
    Jun 17, 2011 - 5:27PM

    @Raj: India is still better than Arab world. :)Recommend

  • Rock
    Jun 17, 2011 - 5:27PM

    @Khan: But not in the arab land. Lol. :)Recommend

  • Zain
    Jun 17, 2011 - 5:38PM

    And there are people in Pakistan who actually want to be exactly like Saudi Arabia–while apparently, even Saudis want to be less like what they are nowRecommend

  • ashwin
    Jun 17, 2011 - 5:38PM

    wow !!! women are not allowed drive in quaint :)
    @usman saeed : what is Islam got to with Saudi’s stupidity, illiterate zealots tend to interpret every idea according to their twisted needs, for these guys religion is a means.Recommend

  • Vinayak
    Jun 17, 2011 - 5:43PM

    @Rehan Ali:

    Why has the fatwa been issued …

    One logical reason I can think of is, it makes it harder for the (fatwah) issuer’s wife/ wives to leave them. Surely the no holy book can be saying that woman cannot drive. Recommend

  • Rock
    Jun 17, 2011 - 6:03PM

    @Raj: On a serious note- women’s condition in India, It’s mamoth task for 1.21billion people country. I will never say in next 50years that Indian women will get best treatement in the world. But due to education the condition is improving at faster rate. India need much more better social welfare mission. Today this is limites to Mumbai, banglore chennai. pune, kolkatta and other 2nd tier cities. Sadly Delhi and villages does not have any social agenda on the radar. Banglore and Mumbai are much more better cities because women are accomodated in every stream of life. Corporate sector is doing what government should do. But “Raj” still India has bright future because we are moving in the right direction. Regarding most dangerous place for women in the world Buddy you know very little about these rating agency and their structure. So please let them get money for these ratings and poor research. India should improve on the social structure for women otherwise there no need to say “Bharat Mata”. It will be very insulting to call even mother land where mothers are humilated. Recommend

  • Mooed
    Jun 17, 2011 - 6:09PM

    is this really THAT important that it has to be the leading headline ? Recommend

  • Sheikh
    Jun 17, 2011 - 6:26PM

    Technically saudi women aren’t banned from driving since such a law does not exist however the saudi authorities refuse to issue driving licences to women in a arabia making them illegal to drive so the end result is one & the same thing!!!Recommend

  • Freedom of heresy
    Jun 17, 2011 - 6:27PM

    Israel despite her ills would have been a useful partner. Saudi mullahs will issue fatwas against every thing but not against this monarchy. It is an absolute disgrace to have relations with such an oppressive regime.Recommend

  • John Bosco
    Jun 17, 2011 - 7:01PM

    May be this is first step towards the democracy in Saudi Arabia. Recommend

  • Anti-Women-Driving
    Jun 17, 2011 - 7:09PM

    They are defying the law of the land. May they be caught and punished.
    Seriouly, I am against driving of women all over the world, especially in Pakistan, have you seen the way they drive??? and if they hit someone, they always try to evade the consequences by blaming the damaged partyRecommend

  • Faction
    Jun 17, 2011 - 7:10PM

    This is clearly a false flag CIA, Zionist Jew, RAW operation aimed at humiliating the Muslims. No Muslim would ever do these things. Saudi driving ban is a western lie. Where is the proof that women can’t drive in Saudi Arabia? Recommend

  • Adeel
    Jun 17, 2011 - 7:12PM

    good job girls…its time to break free from stupid baseless laws!Recommend

  • Nida
    Jun 17, 2011 - 7:37PM

    Moeed, if civil rights aren’t important to you, I don’t know what is.Recommend

  • Asad
    Jun 17, 2011 - 7:45PM

    Why doesn’t the US gov and media hype this and many other human rights issues in these oppressive Arab regimes? Oh wait they still need the oil so can’t make these dictators angry now can we… where were the 19 hijackers and their master mind was from? Recommend

  • murassa sanaullah
    Jun 17, 2011 - 7:48PM

    saudis want this kind of system in our country also .plz saudis stop medeling in our affair and look at the right of ur 50 % true islam women even had a right to choose thier lifestyle but in saudi islam men also dont have right to choose thier lifestyle.Recommend

  • Dallas Ali
    Jun 17, 2011 - 8:06PM

    Saudi Arabia is the largest women’s prison in the world. We need to help liberate them from the power hungry Saudi regime.Recommend

  • Nadeem Ahmed
    Jun 17, 2011 - 8:18PM

    With head to toe in Pardha or wearing Burqa, its impossible to drive safely. Try it first and then see how difficult and unsafe driving is. The Mullahs know that if driving privilege is granted, it will end up in throwing away Burqa and once Burqa is gone, then it will start chain reaction to get independence and freedom.Recommend

  • Rock
    Jun 17, 2011 - 9:27PM

    @IWriteURead: Comparison is natural habit. Humanbeing compares different entities. Even animals do compare with different accuracy level. It is the primary analytical step. If you loose this, you may loose many thing in future. Things must be compare, measured, analysed so that need for improvement can be work out. That is why we have competition in every field of life. That’s the reason news of Saudi posted on pakistani website and we are reading it. To take a note of where the world is headed where the pakistani and Indian society moving. what sorts of improvement required. Our thinking starts in that direction. Recommend

  • Asad
    Jun 17, 2011 - 9:48PM

    @ NJ… Quran is not limited to time… its rules are never obsolete, All you need to do is to follow it right. There are many Ahadeeths which are altered and/or fake I do not want to talk about that…. But Quran gives the respectable status to both male and female no matter what century and I am sure Quran does not forbids women driving a bike, a car, an airplane or a horse. Recommend

  • Anonymous
    Jun 17, 2011 - 10:20PM

    Completely agree with Anti-Women Driving!Recommend

  • Kittu
    Jun 17, 2011 - 10:25PM

    No Offence to women ..But Women are bad drivers..:-)

    Except for my wife:-( She is good driver..:-(Recommend

  • Dallas Ali
    Jun 17, 2011 - 10:53PM

    @Sanaullah: If this thing would be impacting you, your demeanor will be different. Human rights are responsibility of the entire mankind.

    I hope pretty soon the corrupt, inept & despotic rulers (thugs) are thrown out just like Z A Ali, Mubarak, Ghaddafi, Asad, Yemeni leadership & Bahrain leadership. The world is moving fast and Mid-East has been left in a medieval era.

    @Asad: US imports about 5% of oil from Mid-East, rest of it comes from Canada, Mexico, UK (N.Sea Brent) and Venezuela. Our Govt is too farsighted to depend on shaky and incompetent dictators.Recommend

  • Irshad Khan
    Jun 17, 2011 - 11:03PM

    What is difference in Taliban ruling system and Saudi Arabia? Then why do we criticise Taliban and appreciate Saudi Arabia for similar rules? Women are treated just like an animal, cook and serve food and bear children, that`s all for them. Islam has given equal rights to men and women, why this is not acceptable to Saudi Arabia, Taliban and Jamaat-e-Islami? Recommend

  • Raj
    Jun 17, 2011 - 11:11PM

    @Rock : There is always a relative rating in this world. If you go to any western countries, the place of women is much higher in their society in general compared to India. My point is are we contributing anything objectively to this topic or matter by dragging in India or is it more of a bragging to the Pakistanis/Arabians(predominantly Islamic societies) in face of their sufferings that “See how great we are” (may be a relative matter as I already told you). Is it helping anybody? Think about it.Recommend

  • Ali
    Jun 17, 2011 - 11:15PM

    Who cares!!!Recommend

  • Jun 17, 2011 - 11:28PM

    @Rock: and you write as if india has become USA and UK. Get out of your fallacies and tourist campaign you are running on ET. This is supposed to be Pakistani stuff man, get a life. hushhh =PRecommend

  • Mian Munzir Ahmad
    Jun 18, 2011 - 12:15AM

    It is not a matter that women drive to enjoy but now a day they really want to step out of houses for their children needs and in many cases for their medical problems. It is wrong to implement partial society of Islam i.e. the things which are easy to implement may be adapted and the things which are difficult may not be considered. Islam provides security to even one even non Muslims by introducing welfare society which we the western countries has adapted and we lost. By adapting such society may be a woman does not want to step out without mehrum but in this case is it essential for a woman to be confident and sticke for betterment.


    We are asking women to be in their houses and what the Arabs do on such a Holly place????Recommend

  • Shah
    Jun 18, 2011 - 1:32AM

    A news beginning….cheers girls..Recommend

  • Giri
    Jun 18, 2011 - 1:42AM

    Hope they don’t drive with their veil covering their face :-)

    I have an idea. If men really support their women, all the men and women should drive wearing burkha to confuse the police :-) Recommend

  • Leila Rage
    Jun 18, 2011 - 5:30AM


    I sincerely hope that the Saudi women are successful in getting this restrictive law revoked. For those of you who believe that this is a “zionist/American/CIA conspiracy” and that there is no such law, please do visit Saudi Arabia as a woman. Then you will understand. There are stores with signs that read “women and dogs not allowed”, which I have seen with my own eyes during a visit. Recommend

  • Leila Rage
    Jun 18, 2011 - 5:38AM

    It is sad how the Arabs have made the practice of Islam in their nation such a force of oppression. Islam is a religion of liberation, freedom, equality, fairness and justice. It was a faith born to LIBERATE people from oppression and give them true freedom. How can any person or authority limit and distort God’s path of liberation into one of oppression against women? We are also God’s creation, and in Islam we are taught that God loves each of His creations more than 70 mothers. How can people be silly enough to believe that the same God would want women mistreated and robbed of civic and basic rights? This is not an Islamic law, this is the law of some cruel and hypocritical men who distort God’s Holy Words to suit their own purposes.Recommend

  • Jun 18, 2011 - 5:56AM

    Lol at Pakistanis speaking out against their financiers. Recommend

  • Akthar
    Jun 18, 2011 - 6:29AM

    Our country is better than saudi when it comes women driving! We can atleast be proud of this giving rights for women to drive!Recommend

  • Rock
    Jun 18, 2011 - 7:50AM

    @Raj: yes it is helping to them who take criticism positively will always work on the problems of society others will always say it just point scoring or propaganda, It’s your choice Raj. When BBC shows fake child labour videos in India we do not go to court against BBC because we know even if that video is fake, “Child labour exist somewhere in Indian society.” And it is matter of big shame. As far as contribution towards indian society I am individualy contributing in my own way. I will never like to hear those lines “what have you done for your own society?” Recommend

  • Rock
    Jun 18, 2011 - 8:04AM

    @Uzair Javaid: No. I want India to be better than USA and UK that is why I am working for my society. India has rich history and culture background so India should achieve this target in next 100years. UK took 350 years and US took 300 years. I want strong social structure in India just like japan. Regarding your other sentences my 4th,5th,6th comment is for you dear. If you are an arab why don’t you work for you society just like me and If you are a pakistani same thing for you. Start taking criticism positively and contribute for your own society which is very important.Recommend

  • Singh
    Jun 18, 2011 - 8:09AM

    1400 year back there was no car or motorcycle so it is not mention in Koran. my be you you guys should look for ban on riding a camel which is still in use there.Recommend

  • Jun 18, 2011 - 9:01AM

    Viva! Saudi sisters. We are with you. Mabrook! You will be the leaders in bringing about a sea change in Saudi society. Salams my sisters. Recommend

  • Ihk
    Jun 18, 2011 - 9:29AM

    @Nadeem Ahmed:
    No its not. Please don’t spread fallacies…instead try other logical arguements to prove Saudi offcials as idiots for which you have my full support.Recommend

  • Suresh
    Jun 18, 2011 - 10:03AM

    If a woman can sit in a car, how does driving makes any difference to the religion? The automotive is the one actually driving the car, and the driver only has the control over it. This would mean, having control of the automotive is against the religion. Suppose tomorrow an invention makes a car to ride it using satellite navigation and a remote control as in a TV, then a woman holding the remote control while the car is driven itself would be against Islam too? Similarly would woman using a remote control in TV be banned too?Recommend

  • Jun 18, 2011 - 10:28AM

    Let them eat Saudi woman driving.Recommend

  • Ihk
    Jun 18, 2011 - 10:43AM


    Suresh its all crap. Infact this is taking crapness to another cosmic level. NOTHING to do with Islam. Just plain male chauvinism at its best.Recommend

  • Ahmed
    Jun 18, 2011 - 11:46AM

    Yes Indai is better than Arab where a wife is burnt alive with his husband CHITA. Shame on you @Rock: Recommend

  • Faction
    Jun 18, 2011 - 5:30PM

    @Leila Rage – I will add the Raymond Davis’ half sister to my list of conspirators in the future. Maybe then you will get the point.Recommend

  • Pakistani
    Jun 18, 2011 - 7:00PM

    Well in Pakistan women can drive any vehicle they chose to :) it is quite ironic that Pakistan gets blamed constantly for being backward and conservative while we never hear the western media putting up as many stories about Saudia..”not being allowed to drive’ or being limited in their choice of work place’ Imagine if we had a tiny bit of that in Pakistan it would be in the headlines everyday! Maybe we’d have some western intervention to save the women for that reason whereas I guess the Saudi women are not suppressed…… no matter what, we the Pakistani women are by law allowed to go out in our own cars and drive the streets, have many more opportunities to work in diverse office settings though society and certain groups may object but our law does not :) I have seen women drive school vans work as waitresses, go on buses and hold their own in a male dominated society& we should fight for that freedom and be proud of it Recommend

  • kailash sethy
    Jun 18, 2011 - 8:06PM

    I hope someday gals realize it is time for VEIL as well. U gals also have a right to breathe freely without those damn black evil dress..Recommend

  • Sudhir
    Jun 18, 2011 - 8:28PM

    @murassa sanaullah:

    islam is from Saudi Arabia so what is saudi islam or isalm is only saudi islam others are only converts trying to imitate them.What is your isalm a pakistani isalm or what???Recommend

  • Ihk
    Jun 18, 2011 - 9:01PM

    Well said!!! \m/-_-\m/Recommend

  • Dallas Ali
    Jun 18, 2011 - 9:25PM

    Not all who comment are Pakistans, some of us are Americans or elsewhere. It is not question of nationality, ethnicity, religion but morality & ethics not financier. If it is right we need to stand up just as we should against wrong.

    Like I said before S. Arabia is largest women’s prison. Every wrong against women happens there and is tolerated by sick & despotic leaders.

    I am LUSTING for the day when I hear that these medieval dictators are thrown out.Recommend

  • Leila Rage
    Jun 18, 2011 - 10:55PM

    @Faction: So what you’re saying is that what I have witnessed is a lie? I have seen this law in effect in Saudia Arabia; what are you trying to imply, that I can’t see, or that I’m lying? What on earth has this Arabian law and women’s rights got to do with Raymond Davis and his family? All I said was that these reports of the mistreatment of women in eastern nations isn’t a conspiracy. It’s really happening. You would know this if you worked with NGO’s and traveled to these places and dealt with this reality, like I have. Recommend

  • Leila Rage
    Jun 19, 2011 - 2:14AM

    @Sudhir: Islam is Islam. People practice it all over the world, and so the practice of it and its interpretation is affected by the different countries and environment in which its followers live. For instance, Islam is generally more open-mindedly practiced in the large cities of Pakistan, than it is in authoritarian Saudi Arabia where the conditions are such that it is difficult for women to even protest against their situation. It is only natural that people make sense of their religion according to their understanding of God. Those who see God as a Wrathful Punisher will naturally assume that religion allows for chauvanism and bigotry. Those who believe in the Mercy, Goodness and Love of God will have a more open-minded opinion of what their faith means. Recommend

  • Imran Khan
    Jun 19, 2011 - 2:21AM

    Every woman in Saudia start driving they cannot arrest you all
    It s your legal and Islamaic rightRecommend

  • Imran Khan
    Jun 19, 2011 - 3:07AM

    This is Jihad for womenRecommend

  • Rock
    Jun 19, 2011 - 9:09AM

    @Ahmed: If you are talking about “Sati” then please update your memory card. Nowdays widows are getting remarried. And one more thing my 1st,2nd,3rd,4th,5th, 6th and7th commments are for you. Read them.Recommend

  • Avanti
    Jun 19, 2011 - 10:17AM

    Rock – you are like my friend’s wife. Doesn’t matter what the discussion topic is, she will somehow find a way to mention her family. Everyone knows about it and laughs at it but she is just so helpless . . ..

    We are discussing Saudi women here. What this has to do with India? Everyone knows that Indian women drive. Everyone knows that the world, just like India, is male dominated and women don’t have equal rights, may be in the books, but not in reality. India is the same way. Our women still have to follow the men. Things are getting better, but let us face it, they are still way behind men in every which way. In India. Recommend

  • Ihk
    Jun 19, 2011 - 5:59PM

    @Leila Rage:
    I am your fanRecommend

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