Saudi women get behind the wheel to protest against ban on female drivers despite warning from authorities

  • Four women have successfully driven in protest over the ban
  • The Arab state does not allow females to hold a licence
  • Driving campaigners upload films of themselves driving on the internet

By Lizzie Parry

PUBLISHED: 14:38, 26 October 2013 | DailyMail

 

A group of Saudi Arabian women have got behind the wheel today in protest at the ban on women driving in the kingdom.

Four women have successfully driven, defying the ban, despite warnings by police officers and ultraconservatives in Arab state, activist May Al Sawyan said.

Though no specific Saudi law exists banning women from driving, the female population are not issued licences.

Defiant: Four women have successfully driven in the kingdom, protesting at the state's ban on women driving
Defiant: Four women have successfully driven in the kingdom, protesting at the state’s ban on women driving

Powerful religious leaders, who exert a far-reaching influence over the monarchy, enforce the ban warning that breaking it will spread ‘licentiousness’.

In the run up to today’s protest, police warned anyone disturbing public order would be dealt with forcefully.

Ultraconservative clerics staged protests earlier in this week against the online petition campaign, which was launched in September, which claims to have more than 16,000 signatures.

The account’s website, oct26driving.org, and official English language YouTube account were hacked on Friday, according to activists.

Activists posted a four minute-long video on the campaign’s official Arabic account that they said filmed driving campaign supporter Al Sawyan driving in Riyadh.

She wore sunglasses and her hair was covered by the traditional black headscarf worn by Saudi women, but her face was otherwise visible.

Like other female drivers defying the ban in Saudi Arabia, Al Sawyan said she has obtained a driver’s license from abroad.

‘I am very happy and proud that there was no reaction against me,’ she said. ‘There were some cars that drove by.

‘They were surprised, but it was just a glance. It is fine … They are not used to seeing women driving here.’

‘It is now time for Saudi women to drive.’ Women defying ban.

Protest: Female campaigners have filmed themselves driving and uploaded the footage online

Protest: Female campaigners have filmed themselves driving and uploaded the footage online

However, Al Sawyan said she was prepared for the risk of detention if caught. She said she was far enough from a police car that she was not spotted.

‘I just took a small loop. I didn’t drive for a long way, but it was fine. I went to the grocery store,’ she said.

Her husband and family waited at home and called her nervously when she arrived at the grocery store to check on her, she said.

She drove with a local female television reporter in the car. They were both without male relatives in the vehicle.

The campaign for women to drive is a rare show of defiance in the kingdom.

The kingdom’s first major driving protest came in 1995. Some 50 women who drove their cars were jailed for a day, had their passports confiscated and lost their jobs.

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.

 

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