A Saudi woman, Manil al-Sharif, was detained by Saudi Arabia’s religious police on Saturday after driving in the eastern city of Khobar. Al-Sharif had a friend videotape her driving and posted the video on YouTube and on the Facebook page, “Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself,” that she and other Saudi women started.
Via Facebook, al-Sharif and others have called for a lifting of the driving ban on women. They have called for a “mass drive” on June 17; so far, over 12,000 are supporting their efforts. In this video, al-Sharif describes how women can participate in the June 17th movement.
Women in the ultra-conservative Wahhabi state are also not allowed to vote except for chamber of commerce elections in cities, sit on the King’s Cabinet, travel without permission from a male guardian or “mingle with males who are not their husbands or brothers,” says MSNBC.
According to human rights activist Walid Abou el-Kheir, said al-Sherif, the Saudi religious police are “charged with ensuring the kingdom’s rigid interpretation of Islamic teachings are observed.” Women, both Saudi and foreign, are forbidden to drive in Saudi Arabia; as MSNBC notes, women must hire a driver for $300 – $400 a month. If they are unable to afford this, they have to rely on male relatives to get to work or go anywhere.
MSNBC describes the video made by al-Sharif and her friend:
Dressed in a headscarf and the all-encompassing black abaya all women must wear in public, al-Sharif said not all Saudi women are “queens” who can afford to hire a driver. She extolled the virtues of driving for women, saying it can save lives, and time, as well as a woman’s dignity. Al-Sharif said she learned how to drive at the age of 30 in New Hampshire.
“We are humiliated sometimes because we can’t find a taxi to take us to work,” she said.
After al-Sharif was arrested, activists and others started an outcry on Twitter, using the tags #FreeManal! and #Women2Drive. The Associated Press reports that al-Sharif was released after a few hours — but then, a few hours later, it was reported on the Twitter feed of Women2Drive that, in the middle of the night,
“Manal is being arrested now from her house again by Gov police for driving in #Khobar streets.”
As reported via the Women2Drive Twitter account, the police — apparently the secret police in plainclothes — did not have an “arrest memo” and al-Sharif and her brother were refusing to let them in.
We will be updating this post as more reports about Manal al-Sharif are received.
Update, 11:00 pm EST: Via the Twitter account of Ana3rabeya: Manal al-Sharif is being detained at the Khobar Police Station – Criminal Investigation Unit.
Please sign the petition to end the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia and support Manal al-Sharif’s efforts.
Photo taken in a souq in Saudi Arabia by retlaw snellac.