In Saudi Arabia, a women uprising is on the way. It’s time for Saudi women to steer the wheel. Tomorrow, hopefully thousands of Saudi women will take control of their lives, get behind the wheel and drive through the streets of Riyadh, the only city in the world where women are not allowed to drive.
The “October 26 driving for women” campaign is the most successfully organized online campaign ever to take place in the kingdom. In Saudi Arabia, thousands used Twitter and Facebook, and with the resilience and determination of Saudi women, the campaign reached many Saudi internet users.
The campaign urges women to get out of their houses and drive, posting videos of themselves driving and encouraging more women to follow their lead. An online petition accompanied the campaign, gathering over 16,000 votes by Saudi women participants in the Saturday protest. The petition site however was hacked and female Saudi activists received repeated threats from the authorities.
The Saudi authorities warned against protests that they said would “disturb public orders.” They also warned against online political dissent saying that whoever supports the protests online will be punished according to the strict Saudi cyber-laws. Those who will be arrested for defying the law might get up to five-year prison sentences and pay stiff fines.
It is not just the Saudi Arabian authorities that are standing in the way of the women. A huge part of the problem stems from the religious clerics who play a huge part in Saudi politics through their positions. Islamic clergy fulfill the role of a counsel for the Saudi king not to mention the power that these clerics have on the masses. One of the most prominent Saudi clerics, Sheikh Saleh Al-Loheidan, gave an interview in which he stated that driving damages women’s ovaries thus resulting in deformed babies.
This could be considered even a fatwa thus creating a bigger problem for women, where a fatwa -a religious edict- in Islam is a “legal pronouncement issued by a religious law specialist on a specific issue.” So using his power to create problems for the women behind the wheel, Al-Loheidan is trying to stir hostility toward them by making them appear as if they are challenging Islam and allowing themselves to become demonized by Western culture.
Al-Loheidan is not alone in his misogynistic war on Saudi Arabian women. Outside one of King Abdullah’s palaces this week, 150 clerics publicly protested against the women driving campaign. They complained that Saudi authorities were not doing anything to enforce the driving ban and claimed that it was a conspiracy against Islam.
There is no official law on women driving, but there is a fatwa declared by The Grand Mufti, the country’s most senior religious authority, which prohibits women from driving or being issued a driving license. All of the women who plan to take the wheel tomorrow have obtained their licenses abroad.
The Saudi Ministry of Interior issued a decree supporting this fatwa which is based on the religious concept of women being more prone to temptation than man and that driving on their own would corrupt the Islamic society where men and women have different roles. A woman is supposed to stay at home and go out only in the company of a “related” male. A woman driving on her own is easily corrupted.
The religious and political mess however has done little to dissuade the women who plan on driving. Despite ghosts of previous arrests for 2 of the 40 women who dared to drive in June 2011, the enthusiasm is growing, even from male relatives and fellow Saudi men.
Saudi Arabian women are out to own the city and nothing will stop them, not fatwas about damaged ovaries, no death threats and no strict laws on disrupting public peace.
Written by: Jaylan Salah