Saturday, November 30, 2013

Rotana Tarabzouni Sings Once More

Saudi student and vocalist Rotana Tarabzouni wrote to us here at the blog. She has a new video up on YouTube, linked below. Her singing is fantastic, very emotional, heartfelt and beautiful.

Dear K,

As a month has passed, I wanted to say thank you for your correspondence with me at the time of launching the video I made in unison with the October26 campaign. Your support was so meaningful to me . 

As I continue to pursue music as a way of inspiring other Arab women – and women in general - to follow their bliss , I think it is very important that I keep those that have supported me along the way posted .

As you can imagine, there was quite a bit of backlash and efforts to silence me after that video, as has been the case whenever I rise and sing as a Saudi women. Instead of fighting dark with dark, I decided to sing ..Below is the link , I hope you enjoy it and thank you so much again .


Friday, November 29, 2013

Saudi women drivers: Leading female campaigner stopped

BBC report of November 29, 2013. A link is here, text pasted below.

Saudi women's rights campaigner, Aziza al Yousef
Aziza al Yousef was stopped by Saudi police as she drove through Riyadh

A leading Saudi campaigner for giving women the right to drive has been stopped by police as she was driving through the capital, Riyadh. Photos of Aziza al Yousef were posted on Friday morning as she was seen at the wheel.Her fellow activist, Eman al Nafjan, took the pictures.
On her Twitter page, Ms Nafjan provided a running account of their drive, saying they bought a bunch of bananas without anyone batting an eyelid.

She posted a photo of them filling up at a petrol station and expressed her satisfaction that this all seemed to be treated as an everyday occurrence.

But then they were spotted and reported to the police, who stopped them. Aziza al Yousef messaged the BBC to say that they had been taken to a police station.

Both were asked to sign a pledge that they would not drive again. Ms Nafjan refused to.

On Twitter, while still with the police, she said that if she was asked to call her male guardian, she would simply say that she was her own guardian. But her guardian -- known as a mahram -- was called against her wishes.

Fresh hope
The two women were then released. Ms Nafjan described her companion as the bravest and most courageous of drivers. It was only two days ago that Aziza al Yousef -- with another activist, Hala al-Dosari -- had a meeting with the Interior Minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.
A Saudi police car parked close to the vehicle that Aziza al Yousef has been driving On her Twitter account, Eman al Nafjan said police (above right) stopped the vehicle that Aziza al Yousef had been driving
The prince has long been one of the most powerful men in the country and is seen as a possible future king -- representing a younger generation than the current leaders. Activists said the meeting was positive and the minister sympathetic.

No-one expected this to herald any big change in the immediate future. Reform is a gradual process in Saudi Arabia and there remain powerful factions opposed to lifting the driving ban on women.

But the meeting came after activists relaunched a campaign several months ago with the aim of making the idea of women driving in Saudi Arabia a normal part of life.

They originally set 26 October as a day for women -- with the support of Saudi men -- to take to the wheel.

Dozens did, but the authorities made clear they would not accept a mass flouting of the ban.
Since then, activists have recast the campaign around the non-existent day of November 31 -- a sign that it would continue indefinitely. Several women have been driving and posting videos of themselves since.

The meeting with Prince Mohammed bin Nayef had been seen as possibly offering fresh hope that the authorities might be taking a softer stance.

The brief detention of Aziza al Yousef and Eman al Nafjan is an abrupt reminder that nothing can be taken for granted in Saudi Arabia -- and that a shift one way often only signals a shift in the exact opposite direction a few days later.

Driving ban protects women from "evils" - Saudi Grand Mufti

On November 28, 2013, posted this story by Daniel Shane.. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted below.

(AFP/Getty Images)
(AFP/Getty Images)

Saudi Arabia’s highest Islamic authority has warned the Gulf country not to become preoccupied with the issue of women’s right to drive, while accusing users of online social media of spreading “misleading doctrines”.

Giving a lecture at Saudi’s Taibah University, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al Sheikh said that the “objective behind not allowing women to drive is to protect society from evils”.

Women are not permitted to drive in the highly conservative Gulf state, which practices an austere version of Wahabi Islam, despite there being no official law that prohibits this. In October, a number of female activists organised a nationwide day of defying the ban, with many posting video clips of themselves driving on YouTube.

The campaign was largely organised through online channels such as Twitter and came despite warnings from the government urging it not to go ahead.

The Grand Mufti accused those that use such platforms of attempting to destabilise Saudi society. “They seek to undermine the social fabric and they are platforms for malice that promote misleading doctrines,” he was quoted as saying by a local newspaper.

He added that the Qur’an, the Islamic holy text, stipulated that Muslims must obey national rulers, in the latest example of the Grand Mufti’s increasingly political statements.

Last month, Sheikh Abdul Aziz warned young Saudis against travelling to Syria to join militias fighting President Bashar Al Assad. "This is all wrong, it's not obligatory," he said.

The Grand Mufti has attracted considerable controversy with his public statements in the past, including an alleged call to destroy all Christian churches in the Arabian Peninsula and giving his support to underage marriage of females.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Saudi reassessing ban on women drivers

This from AFP on November 27, 2013. A link to the story is here, and the text is below:

Saudi authorities are reassessing a controversial ban on the right for women to drive in the ultra-conservative kingdom, activists said on Wednesday, citing the interior minister.

"Rest assured that the issue is being discussed, and expect a good outcome," Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said, according to Aziza al-Yusef who met him along with fellow activist Hala al-Dosari.

Yusef said the meeting took place at the minister's office, but through a video conference, in compliance with strict rules of segregation between men and women.

But the top security chief stressed that the globally unique ban on driving for women was "a matter to be decided by the legislative authority," Yusef told AFP.

Saudi Arabia has an all-appointed consultative Shura Council, with no elected parliament. The council makes recommendations to the government, but the king remains the absolute legislator.

"We expect a royal decree that gives us this right," Yusef said.

Three of the recently appointed 30 female members of the council presented a recommendation last month that women be given the right to drive.

But the male-dominated 150-member assembly rejected the recommendation without passing it to the government.

Prince Mohammed told the activists the kingdom was "governed by sharia" Islamic law, Dosari wrote on Twitter, adding that activists insisted women's "rights do not violate sharia law, and should not be measured by the opinions of extremists".

At least 16 women were stopped by police during a driving protest day last month and were fined and forced along with their male guardians to pledge to obey the kingdom's laws.

In addition to the driving ban, women in Saudi Arabia are subjected to various restrictions, including needing a male guardian's consent in almost every aspect of their lives, and having to cover from head to toe when in public.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Saudi woman embraces year abroad at MU

This feature article from the Missourian newspaper features a Saudi foreign student. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted in below.

From left Haneen Mohammed, Katelyn Cinnamon, Amanda Gingrich, Hina Kh and Vivian Chang pose with pumpkins they carved. Originally from Saudi Arabia, Haneen is attending MU as a foreign exchange student this year. She said she has experienced many firsts in the U.S., including her first autumn.
COLUMBIA – A black Toyota Camry creeps around an empty lot at Cosmopolitan Park on a late October evening.

After parking the car at a cockeyed angle between two painted yellow lines, Haneen Mohammed takes her foot off the brake and her hands off the steering wheel.

She lets out a sigh.

"It wasn't as scary as I thought it would be," she said with a laugh.

Although she had driven a couple of times before, this was her first opportunity to drive without a parent in the car. It was also the first time she could drive in a country that openly accepts women behind the wheel.

Gender gap at home

Haneen's home country, Saudi Arabia, prohibits women from driving. Last year her father taught her to drive in the middle of the Arabian Desert, where she had an empty landscape to navigate.

Driving is one of many ways she's embraced the opportunities of spending a year at MU.

Before moving to Columbia as a foreign exchange student, Haneen, 21, had spent her entire life in Saudi Arabia, a country with one of the largest gender gaps in the world, according to the World Economic Forum. She said the gap is enforced by Islamic customs, which encourage the social separation of men and women.
Haneen was itching for something new, so when she was given the chance to study abroad, she took it.

"If any other place would have been available, I would have gone," she said. "Every young Saudi secretly dreams of traveling outside of Saudi — or maybe it's not so secret."

Life in the United States has been a series of firsts for Haneen, who is studing computer engineering. She has seen autumn for the first time and sampled traditional American experiences — an MU football game, the Renaissance Festival in Kansas City and the City Museum in St. Louis.

Her experience has also been challenging on some levels. She's a practicing Muslim in a nation that doesn't prioritize it the same way her country does. She also attends classes with male students. Schools in Saudi Arabia, both private and public, are segregated.

Daily routines such as walking from her dorm room to the shower worried her at first, but she was comforted when she discovered she would be living on an all-girls floor.

But in the midst of embracing a different culture, Haneen has learned to better appreciate her own.

"I love it here, but recently I've found myself missing home," she said.

The Saudi gender gap

The World Economic Forum's 2013 Global Gender Gap Report, released Oct. 25, ranked Saudi Arabia No. 127 out of 136 countries for gender equality. It is the first time since the report began in 2006 that the country wasn't in the bottom five.

Women in Saudi Arabia cannot drive or vote, though the king has decreed that they can participate in the voting process in 2015.

In attempt to find a balance, Haneen joined Saudi Students Association, an MU co-ed club, but she discovered that some of the members still have what she perceives as "a Saudi state of mind."

"They are nice, but I think the way they were raised taught them to avoid talking to girls," she said of some of the male members. "So even here, there's still a barrier."

Under Saudi law, women in public places must have a male guardian, usually a father, brother or husband. Hospitals, police stations and banks uphold that law. A woman may need permission to travel, marry, divorce, go to school, get a job or open a bank account, depending on the guardian.

Having a guardian isn't meant to be oppressive, she said, but rather as a way for men to protect their families.
"I like having a guardian, but it didn't have much effect on me because I have an open family," she said. "I
know it affected other families, the most close-minded families."

Haneen's father, Abdurashid, was planning to stay in an apartment in Columbia to ensure her safety while she was at MU.

"We trust her, but it was her first time to go outside the country without us," he said during a visit with his wife to Columbia this semester. He gave up on the idea after he realized his daughter would be safe in Columbia.

A tradition for herself

The toughest part so far for Haneen has been meshing her school schedule with fulfilling one of Islam's five pillars of worship — salat, a ritualized prayer performed by Muslims five times a day as they face Mecca, Islam's holy city.

Children are hushed, shops are closed, and streets are emptied when it's time to pray in Saudi Arabia, but life doesn't stop when it's time to pray in Columbia.

Haneen uses the compass on her phone to turn herself toward Mecca and prays as her class schedule allows, rather than following the standard times. The times are calculated daily for specific locations around the globe using astronomical measurements.

"You have to put in extra effort over here at the beginning, but then you get used to it," she said.

She has been pushed to determine the best way to practice her religion in other ways. For example, Haneen was told that wearing a hijab in Missouri might be problematic.

She braced for the lack of acceptance, which sparked an internal debate over whether she would wear it. Since arriving, she's come to realize the importance of her hijab: Wearing it serves as a reminder of the social and physical limits she has set for herself.

"I feel more comfortable with it on," she said. "It's a tradition for myself now, and I'm mixed with boys here, so I think it's good to have it on."

Family supports decision

Haneen's family has long supported her dream to study in the United States. They encouraged her to travel, work hard in school and become an independent woman. Her mother, Aisha, said Haneen was quiet but wise growing up.

"She never depended on someone else to teach her how to do things," her father said.

In high school, Haneen focused on her studies. She won international chemistry and physics competitions for high school students in the Arab nations and earned a full academic scholarship to Effat University in Jeddah, her hometown.

When she told her parents she wanted to study abroad, they supported her through the application process. They knew a year in the United States would strengthen her English, which they believe will help her career down the road.

When Haneen forgot her I.D. card necessary to take the test for acceptance into the study abroad program, her entire family drove eight hours across the Arabian Desert, so she could take the next available test.
"Whatever she wants to do, we like supporting her," said her father.

Learning from the present

Although it's been an adjustment, Haneen said her time outside Saudi Arabia has helped her better understand her home country.

"I used to hate that place, but now I realize (the lack of social opportunities is) not anyone's fault," she said.

"It's just life there. We don't have many places to socialize, but ... there's no one to blame for the way that life is in Saudi."

She said she's starting to grasp the social gap between men and women there, as well.

"Saudi men are raised to avoid talking to women unless they have to," she said. "I think it's out of respect for the women, and sometimes women take it the wrong way when a man approaches them.

"They might think a man is hitting on them when they aren't," she said. "So there are two sides to it."

Hassan Al Majed, an MU student who attends the same mosque in Columbia as Haneen, agreed that most Saudi men have a high regard for Saudi women.

"On the east side of Saudi Arabia, when males see a female being bothered by another guy, the males will approach him and the law will stand with the female," he said. "Whatever she wants, she will get."

Haneen said she'll view Saudi social life in a new perspective when she returns, approaching it with a more outgoing attitude.

"I changed a lot when I went to college, and I changed even more when I came here, so maybe people back home won't know me anymore."

Supervising editor is
Jeanne Abbott.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Haifaa Al-Mansour: Women driving in Saudi Arabia is a matter of time

This October 30, 2013 article is an interview with the director of the Oscar-nominated film, "Wadjda", Haifaa Al-Mansour. A link to the article is here, and it's pasted in below. This article is by Sally Brammall and it appeared in "The Big Issue". The trailer to the film is at the bottom of this post.

Wadjda's Director, Haifaa Al-Mansour

As the campaign to support Saudi women drivers moves up a gear, the country's first female film director says their society is modernising

Women driving in Saudi Arabia is now just a matter of time, says Haifaa Al-Mansour, the first ever Saudi female film director.

Haifaa Al-Mansour, 39, told the Big Issue: “Five years ago everyone [in Saudi Arabia] was opposed to women driving and now it’s a hot topic. It will happen. It’s just a natural progression of how the society is modernising.”

Driving is forbidden for women in Saudi Arabia, but in recent weeks the issue has jumped to the top of the political agenda after cleric Sheik Salah al-Luhaydan’s astonishing public claim that women drivers risk damaging their ovaries.

Last Sunday dozens of Saudi women took to their cars and uploaded YouTube videos of their protest driving online, in the biggest demonstration against the ban to date. A petition to overturn the rule already bears more than 17,000 signatures.

Although Al-Mansour supports the campaign, she warns the direct action approach may rile the conservatives in power.

“Saudi is a country which doesn’t like noise, and if the approach is too aggressive, the conservatives become closed and defend their values really strongly,” she says. “The majority of Saudi is conservative so you don’t want to place them in that position, but take them with you on that journey.”

Wadjda, Al-Mansour’s Oscar nominated film about an entrepreneurial Saudi girl who dreams of riding a bicycle despite a societal ban (see trailer below), shone a global spotlight on the country’s ultra conservative laws. Shortly after its release, the Saudi government released an edict stating that women were now permitted to ride bicycles for leisure.

But Al-Mansour is keen to be seen as an artist rather than a social activist. “I wasn’t thinking that I would make a film and then the bicycle ban would be lifted!” she says. “But I was thinking about empowering girls, about equality for women, freedom of mobility and a better life for girls.”

She continues: “With Wadjda, I knew that a film coming out from Saudi, and being filmed by a woman in Saudi, would create a lot of buzz. But in the midst of all that, it’s important not to forget that you need to make something that people enjoy.

"I am a film-maker, film is my microphone and that is how I want to contribute to change.”

A screening of Wadjda will take place at the upcoming One World Media Festival at University College London. Festival director Mick Csaky said: “I was immensely attracted to showing Wadjda at the One World Media film festival. I am a huge believer in the power of all media to effect change, and I think that Wadjda in a subtle, human way has the extraordinary capacity to do so.”
One World Media Festival takes place on November 8 & 9

For Saudi women in Kansas city, driving isn't 'a big issue'

On November 8, 2013, the Kansas City Star published this article - based on interviews with some Saudi women who are pursuing their studies in the U.S. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted below. I think the headline does not exactly equate with the story -- but the story itself is quite informative.


When she recently obtained a Missouri driver’s license, college student Shrouk Alburj wasn’t thinking of liberation.

She was thinking: I need the wheels.

Her native Saudi Arabia is the world’s only country that bars women from driving. But as a movement quietly builds back home to issue licenses to women, Alburj and other Saudi women studying in Kansas City say they’re puzzled by the attention that Americans have given the subject.

“It’s not a big issue for us,” said Alburj, 25, who is pursuing a master’s degree in public affairs at Park University. “Driving, for many women, is a social need. But I think we really need other rights more than driving.”

Her sentiments are shared by University of Missouri-Kansas City undergraduate Samaa Gazzaz. She is driving now, too, but has been conflicted over the years on whether Saudi custom must change.

American friends tell Gazzaz “it’s crazy” for a culture to forbid women from getting behind the wheel. “I’m not sure why they’re angry about it,” she said, “since I’m not angry...

“I think when you live with something for a very long time, and life is good, you don’t see the need to change,” said Gazzaz, 21. “Though I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before this does change.”

She added: “You can’t apply all the same rules here as there. It’s a really different culture. And it’s OK for people to be different.”

Experts said the ambivalence expressed by many Saudis, both within the kingdom and at U.S. universities, speaks to the power of Saudi traditions and to annoyance that Western societies ridicule their social codes.
“It’s not that they don’t care about driving,” said Ann E. Mayer, a scholar on women’s international rights at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “They may be upset about this patronizing American attitude: ‘Oh, you poor, backward people.’”

On Oct. 26, a few dozen women in Saudi Arabia defiantly got into their family cars and drove. Some posted videos of themselves behind the wheel.

Madiha al-Ajroush, a psychologist in the capital of Riyadh, has been pressing her government to issue licenses to women since 1990. News reports of the modest demonstration suggested the cause has gained little traction within a society deeply loyal to the 89-year-old King Abdullah.

“This is not a revolution,” Ajroush told The New York Times. She said the campaign merely seeks to enable her and other women to “do something as small as get myself a cappuccino or something as grand as taking my child to the emergency room” without the need for a male driver.

In Kansas City, the need to drive independently strikes many Saudi students within weeks of their arrival.

“In this city, I have to drive,” said Park graduate student Najlu Alkhalifa, who is single and would prefer not owning a car. Before coming here, she spent three years at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse “without even thinking of driving. Public transportation took care of me.”

Alkhalifa, 29, and other students interviewed by The Star insisted that their defense of Saudi driving customs was not fueled by Islamic beliefs; if so, they wouldn’t be driving in another country.

In fact, no other Islamic country denies women driving privileges.

“Even the Saudis will tell you it’s not an Islamic thing, it’s a Saudi thing,” said Ibrahim Hooper of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations. “But this driving issue gets lumped into a mass of information that Muslim-bashers keep repeating.

“I don’t know why the king doesn’t just call for issuing licenses to women and move on,” Hooper added.

“It’s not so much about the issue of driving as it is about Saudis not wanting the West to tell them how to run their culture.”

Human-rights advocates consider the driving issue much more serious, entwined in a larger culture that subjugates women of Saudi Arabia — a key U.S. ally — to second-class citizenship.

Against the wishes of strict Muslim clerics, the kingdom in recent years sent female athletes to the Olympic Games and appointed 30 women to the top advisory body, the Shura Council. But that body doesn’t legislate and its male-dominated chamber has not taken up requests of female members to discuss the issuance of driving permits.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, meeting in Riyadh this month with Saudi officials, downplayed America’s diplomatic role in securing rights for motorists.

“We embrace equality for everybody,” Kerry told reporters. “But it’s up to Saudi Arabia to make its own decisions about its own social structure.”

University of Kansas law professor Raj Bhala said that while nothing codified in Saudi or Islamic law prohibits women from driving, Saudi Arabia’s refusal to grant licenses to women flies in the face of international law with respect to equal rights.

“It seems so obvious” even if the United Nations is mum on whether driving is a human right, Bhala said: “Women are entitled to equal dignity and equal protection. That’s like asking me if rain is wet.”

He said the reluctance of Saudi women studying in the United States to criticize the custom may be partly due to their reliance on scholarships funded by their government.

UMKC student Gazzaz and her friend, Reham Bamusa of Park University, said their mothers back home — both teachers, one retired — seldom complain about needing a male relative or paid driver to take them places.
The professional drivers are provided in-home accommodations.

The two students, who came to this country with their husbands, have thus far taken different approaches to motoring around Kansas City.

Gazzaz learned to drive a Toyota RAV4 and obtained her license shortly after arriving last year.
“It was exciting, a new experience,” she said. “I’ve changed a little seeing this whole new world. I don’t know if that’s because of the culture here or me just developing” as a young adult.

Bamusa, however, is holding off the driving experience. She rides the bus if she needs to go to the supermarket and her husband is off to class.

“I like to be with my husband when in the car,” said Bamusa, 28. “That’s just more comfortable...
“And I like to be pampered. I’ll tell him, ‘Please, please, will you take me?’”

Read more here:

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Let women drive for the safety and welfare of their families

Opinion piece in the 11/17/2013 edition of the English language daily the Saudi Gazette, by radio broadcaster and writer Samar Fatany. You can link to the story here, and the text is below.

Samar Fatany

The recent crackdown on undocumented drivers has disrupted the daily lives of  many families in Saudi society. Professional women were immobilized and kindergarten schools suffered the most. The brave Saudi women spearheading the women’s driving campaign are motivated by their concern for the safety and welfare of their loved ones, which is why they continue to demand permission to drive. These women refuse to be dissuaded by  ignorant fatwas and the narrow-mindedness that continues to dominate the mindset in society creating an attitude hostile to the concept of women driving in this country. 

The struggle between reformers and hardliners continues despite the official ban on extremists’ fatwas. There are still powerful and influential clerics who are blocking the changes that could modernize the existing system and they control and infringe on people’s privacy rights. One example is the fatwa that bans women from driving because it could affect their ovaries or encourage immoral behavior.  

Many Saudi families today do not wish to comply with the strict lifestyle of the hardliners, who proclaim modernity to be un-Islamic. Many families want a modern Muslim lifestyle that supports a more flexible attitude that is in tune with the realities of the 21st century.

In 2010 Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah banned all fatwas that were not authorized by the Council of Senior Ulema. However, such fatwas continue to be issued by some extremist Ulema causing much public frustration and international criticism. Websites and call-in shows on religious channels continue to promote and interview ultra-conservative Ulema who see themselves as superior to others and are hostile to anyone who does not conform to their views They use social media to express their condemnations and their rigid interpretations of Islamic Shariah laws. That is why the Saudi women’s driving campaign is not gaining momentum. We need a stronger campaign countering the negative fatwas supporting the ban.

Social activists and researchers should address the negative aspects of the continued ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia and expose how it is a source of misery to many Saudi homes, leading at times to divorce, broken homes and juvenile delinquency.  There is a dire need to educate the public and spread awareness about how women who drive can contribute to the welfare of the family. It is time to put into action a plan that would honor the role of women and protect the Saudi family from further abuse.

Economists stress that the high cost of living and inflation make it difficult for single-income families to provide the basic needs of the average family living in Saudi Arabia today. The participation of women in the workforce is no longer a luxury; it has become an economic necessity. In the absence of public transportation, it is a daily frustration for women to get to work.  How and who takes the children to school is also another daily ordeal that middle class families are forced to struggle with. The frustration over the lack of a driver or the expenses of a driver combined with having to deal with his reckless driving, abuse of the vehicle, rude behavior and untrustworthiness are a source of tension in every Saudi household.  Lifting the ban on women driving can make life much easier for many families and can contribute to their social and economic welfare.

The media should play a bigger role in highlighting case studies of Saudi families who suffer daily because of the ban. Researchers should conduct studies to address the negative aspects of the ban and prompt government action to resolve the social, psychological and economic injustice inflicted upon the educated middle class. Women should be allowed to drive for the well-being of their families. In other countries, the luxury of a chauffeured car is a privilege that only the rich in society are able to enjoy, but in our case it is a great burden.  

Social scientists should address the psychological and economic needs of average middle class families to protect them from stressful conditions and a depressive lifestyle. When the family is faced with daily stress and the frustrations of immobility or its members become prisoners in their own homes, this ultimately leads to many negative consequences, especially unhappy women and children. It is time we implement well-researched strategies that can  provide efficient traffic laws and safe roads so that women can drive. The State remains responsible for enforcing the necessary laws that can guarantee the safety of women drivers and ensure the well-being of the average middle class family. 

The government must recognize that today’s professional young men and women are a different generation; they are more exposed to the world and have access to a more comfortable and convenient lifestyle across the globe. They continue to express their frustration and discontent in Internet forums and YouTube messages. Calling on the government to allow women to drive and to help them cater to the needs of their families by driving their children to school or their parents to a doctor’s appointment is a legitimate demand that would guarantee the average Saudi family a life of dignity and prosperity on a par with the more advanced societies of the world.

The ban on women driving has a negative effect on the lives of women and their families. It is unacceptable treatment of the Saudi family of the 21st century. The happiness, safety and welfare of Saudi families could influence the direction of our nation and the future of our younger generation.

Samar Fatany is a radio broadcaster and writer. She can be reached at

Friday, November 15, 2013

Let Saudi men change their behavior so women can drive

Letters to the editor in the November 15, 2013 edition of the English language daily, the Saudi Gazette. The link to it is here, text pasted in below.

I am writing with regard to the article “Let expat women drive first” (Nov. 11) which suggests that Saudi women who drive would be harassed by Saudi men, so expatriate women should drive first. As an expatriate and as a woman who has lived for 25 years in this country, I feel extremely insulted by this article. Saudi women are not the only ones who are harassed, expatriate women are as well. All women should be protected regardless of their nationality.

Is this article suggesting that expatriate women are not worthy of respect, so they can be treated like test animals? Does Islam suggest that only Saudi women are deserving of respect?

Some Saudi women took a brave step recently in openly driving their cars. Expatriate women did not do so because they know they can face harsh punishment. 

I drove in the UAE for three years and got more respect than in 25 years in Saudi Arabia.  If women have a problem with their car in the UAE, Emirati youngsters stop to offer help without being disrespectful and even the police respect expatriate women as they respect their own women.
- Aisha Khanam, By email

Throughout the argument against women driving, there is one very strong theme: Harassment by Saudi men. This speaks very poorly of Saudi men and they need to take a very good look at themselves and their behavior. Do they behave like this when they are overseas? Instead of controlling women’s activities, it is high time men’s behavior was controlled. Saudi men should just get on with it and behave like everyone else in the world: respect women, treat them like adults, and let them make their own decisions.
- Eliza Conquest, Online response

I have heard of women being harassed even when accompanied by their mahrams, so please stop with these lame excuses. Saudi men need to be held accountable for their behavior and we must stop punishing  women for the bad behavior of men. And think about the fact that letting women drive would lessen the traffic congestion. There wouldn’t be a need for as many foreign drivers. Stop crippling half the population here!
- Susie of Arabia, Online response

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Android malware targets woman drivers in Saudi Arabia

Fascinating article from the Graham Cluley website by Irfan Asrar about malware that was targeting Android smartphones of people in KSA who were involved in lifting the women's driving ban.  A link to the article is here.  

Irfan Asrar is a security researcher focusing on threats targeting embedded and mobile devices.
In the article he explores how hackers attempted to infect the Android devices of users protesting against a Saudi Arabian ban on women drivers.
I previously had posted the contents of the blog article here, but the website owner asked me to provide only the link, which is above. I hope all readers in Saudi Arabia will still be able to get to it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Meet the Woman Driving Change in Saudi Arabia

Interesting interview from a Huffington Post blog with one of the women who drove in Jeddah on October 26, 2013, by Shahla Khan Salter. A link to the story is here, and the text is below.

On Saturday, October 26, more than 60 Saudi women got behind the wheel and drove in Saudi Arabia to challenge the ban on women driving in that country. Some of them posted their videos on YouTube. Several people were detained and fined.

The women were taking part in a movement, born in 1991 when Madeha Alajaroush, a photographer, organized a group of women and drove in a small caravan of cars. Back in 1991, Alajaroush and her fellow activists were criminally convicted and punished for their defiance, their lives torn-apart by clerics.

For more than a decade activists lay low until 2008, when journalist, Wajeha Al-Huwaider got behind the wheel and filmed herself while she drove, bravely uploading her video onto YouTube.

Then, in 2011, Al-Huwaider made another video, including a commentary on how the driving ban impinges on the lives of Saudi woman. She recorded it while fellow activist Manal Al-Sharif drove on the Saudi roadway. Al-Sharif was arrested.

Following Al-Sharif's arrest, dozens of women drove in protest after learning she was jailed for a little over a week. In 2012, Al-Sharif was named one of Time's 100 Most Influential People. (Note: Recently, Al-Huwaider lost her appeal, her conviction of "takhbib" upheld, for helping Canadian Nathalie Morin who remains stranded in that country with her children.)

Last week I interviewed another brave woman who drove on October 26, human rights activist and photographer, Samia El-Moslimany.

This is one of El-Moslimany's most famous photos, published by Time Magazine.

I was joined by fellow MPV Chile affiliate head and activist, Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente.
Here is our inside scoop.

Samia - how do you describe yourself, how did you end up in Saudi Arabia and why do you stay?

My twitter name is@SamiaElmo and my description is "Samia El-Moslimany ~ Moderately-Radical-Feminist- Muslim-Saudi-American Photographer Jihading for Peace, Love & Social Justice!"
I was born into social justice and the feminist cause. My mother and father always lived a life of activism. I followed their path.

At 18, I fell in love with a man, in America, where I spent much of my childhood, who seemed to be the epitome of a Muslim feminist, but who carried a Saudi passport. We married when I was 20, despite my father's misgivings.

We moved to Saudi Arabia from the US, hoping to invest only a few years in Saudi Arabia, to pay off my husband's student loans. We stayed longer because life was easy. I was embraced by my husband's extended family, and money was good. In 1994, my husband was arrested and became a political prisoner for nine months. We moved our family back to the US in 2003 where we hoped to stay.

Unfortunately, our only source of work and income remained in Saudi Arabia. Since then I split my time, commuting between my grown kids in Seattle and my work in Saudi. My husband and I have since separated.

I am a naturalized Saudi citizen. Jeddah has been my home for 30 years. I love my extended family and friends here in Jeddah and hold a deep Islamic conviction to work for social justice and gender equity here.
How fast can change take place in Saudi Arabia in lifting the driving ban?

I believe that Saudi Arabia will change by evolution, not revolution. I believe that the more women that participate -- in defiance of what many (including some authorities) have declared is a cultural ban on women's freedom of movement -- the more likely that those cultural paradigms will shift.

At the beginning of the Oct 26 campaign I decided to join and drive, and upload my video. All Saudi women with valid drivers' licenses received from abroad were encouraged.

Were women discouraged from getting behind the wheel on October 26th?

As the day drew closer, the Ministry of Interior warned of consequences for women who drove and threatened that those sharing information on social media could be charged with incitement and/or convicted of internet crimes.

Many of my western friends married to Saudis were vocal in discouraging women, saying for example, "it's illegal", "the country isn't ready for it", "you don't take your rights by force", "it's not our business/country" etc.

Others claimed it was an evil foreign/Western instigated campaign. The ultra-conservative religious "right" of the country preached that it would lead to the uninhibited mixing of the sexes, sexually immoral behavior, the collapse of society and life as we know it, and could even damage women's ovaries!

Many women were discouraged. Some said it was too dangerous.

How does the inability to drive impact the average woman in Saudi Arabia?

It makes everything harder. The middle-class woman is usually able to afford a driver. However, more often than not, having a driver is a hassle and a hazard. Drivers are not all qualified and there are reports of sexual abuse committed by drivers. So even with drivers, pressure is on male family members to act as drivers for mothers, wives, daughters and sisters.

Drivers are paid about $700/month. I estimate the average salary for most women is usually not much more, so a driver doesn't always make economic sense for families.

And women can't just hop on a bus. There is no transit system. There used to be a pretty good network of inexpensive taxis, but it meant flagging down a strange man. Now there are published reports that it is illegal for a woman to flag a taxi. I don't know if this is enforced.

What happened on October 26th?

When October 26 dawned, I was glued to the computer. I followed social media and posted my encouragement to those who had already ventured out. There were no reports of arrests. In fact there was nothing but euphoric posts of women quietly exercising their human rights.

I asked my estranged husband to accompany me on my drive. (Women were encouraged to have a "mahram" (guardian) accompany them. Some men did accompany their wives while their wives defied the driving ban.) Mine declined. I then asked friends. There were no takers.

Finally, my friend, Eva Ludemann, a Dutch journalist, located in the Netherlands, offered to accompany me via skype. At about 5:00 pm I taped my phone to the rear view mirror of my car, connected with Eva and climbed into my front seat -- a momentous occasion.

More fortunate than some women in Saudi Arabia I have a driver, Fadl Musa Khan, who has been my companion for 27 years. He agreed to follow me a short distance behind in another car.

We drove around the residential area of Al-Manar, in Jeddah, planning to return after about 10 minutes. As I made a turn at an intersection, a dusty SUV, containing two or three men, drove up alongside me.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw them scowling and waving their arms. I continued. They followed me. Afraid, I sped up and lost them, but then got lost myself. I tried to find my way back home. But they found me, sped up and got between me and the car of my driver.

The back streets are isolated and I was scared. So I drove to a more populated area. They remained on my tail. I stopped in front of a grocery store, hopped out of my car, gestured to my driver to park. I then climbed into the backseat and had him take over the wheel of my car.

These men, whom I would later learn were police informants, stopped about 25 metres away. I told my driver to stay put and we waited. Suddenly I heard sirens. Three police cars with lights flashing sped toward us.

I saw one of the informants climb up on the SUV and wildly wave to police. I knew immediately they were after me.

From the backseat, I instructed my driver to head for the freeway, leaving my driver's car at the grocery store. I hoped we could lose them in traffic. But the SUV sped up, almost colliding with us. One police car blocked the intersection ahead of us. Another blocked us on the right. We stopped.

A polite, uniformed officer approached the vehicle and asked for my Saudi ID. I handed it to him with my Washington State drivers' license. He then asked my driver for his residency permit and car registration (and not his drivers' license).

At the intersection where we were stopped, I saw another woman driver. She remained in her vehicle behind the wheel, veiled in a niqab and accompanied by a boy of about 14.

The police told us all to follow them to the police station.

I asked Eva to inform both my mother, my friend and as well, women's rights activist, Kholoud Al Fahad, of my whereabouts. I called my attorneys, Bassim Alim and Reda Abdulrazak. Reda advised me to sign the pledge that would be presented to me, and to not to enter the police station without a police woman present.
After 15 minutes of our arrival at the police station, I exited the car and met the other woman, named Nahed Batarfi. She was also 50, divorced, the mother of 7 and had a PhD in epidemiology. She held a drivers' license from the UK. Since no police woman appeared, we entered the police station together. Soon we were led to a poshly decorated office.

A man politely questioned us (in Arabic) for hours. Here are examples of a few of the questions though not verbatim:

He said: Why were we driving?
We said: Because it is our right.
He said: What group were we part of?
We said: None, we were taking individual action, and no we didn't know each other.
He said: Who had incited us to drive?
We said: No one.
He said: Didn't we know that it is illegal for woman to drive?
We said: No, we knew that it was NOT illegal to drive, simply against the "customs" of the country.
He said: Who were our guardians?
Nahed explained she was divorced and didn't have one. I said I had been separated for three years and refused to consider my husband my guardian.

The Deputy Chief of Police of Jeddah then arrived. He asked the same questions. He insisted I provide him with the contact information for my guardian. I refused.

He said, "in Saudi Arabia, women are queens. We respect our women not like outside the country."
I said that I alone am responsible for my own actions, and I was insulted that a man was required to attend on my behalf. I told him that I am 50 years old, I could be a grandmother and if I committed a crime my guardian would not be held responsible.

The authorities said that to leave I must sign the pledge not to drive and my estranged husband must attend to follow procedure.

They argued with me for nearly three hours. Finally, my husband arrived. I told him I did not want him to sign anything. He stood by me in that respect, and said he was not responsible for me, nor could he control me. The authorities let me go though I incurred a fine. My husband stayed. I do not know if he signed any forms.
The officer said, "You may go. Take your car and go." And then he chuckled and wagged his finger at me, "but let your driver drive, I don't mean YOU take your car and go!"
No women were harmed or imprisoned on October 26. Will this encourage others to get behind the wheel next time?

I hope so. It is the reason I want to share how respectful the authorities behaved (though not the informants). I hope it will encourage women. I signed the pledge. For now, I will not drive again in Saudi. It is my hope that others will. If every woman who drove had to sign a pledge that record would show the determination of Saudi women.

Is another day planned for women to drive in protest?

The goal is to normalize driving and encourage women to drive every day. The next day of "mass" driving is November 31.

Does this movement fall within the definition of feminism for Saudi women? Do Saudi women view the movement from a feminist perspective ?

Unfortunately, the term "feminism" for most Saudi women is negative, implying atheism/secularism and anti-family, anti-Islamic behavior. However, this movement is clearly a feminist movement.

A rose by any other name is still a rose!

Some say this struggle should not take priority in bringing reform in Saudi Arabia because it is only a movement to help privileged women?

Not true. Nahed, the woman who was detained with me, is not privileged. She is educated, but is struggling as a single mother and working woman, at the mercy of drivers and taxi cabs.

Nahed has been waiting for three months for a visa for a driver so he can enter the country. Her 19-year-old son has been driving her and his four sisters to school and work. Soon her son will leave to study overseas.
Nahed drove out of desperation. It is for women like her that I drove.

The deputy police chief sympathetically listened to Nahed's plight, and gave no argument, and then turned to me and said, "You, you have a driver, you have no excuse!"

: Following this interview, it was reported that on Sunday, November 3, 2013 a Kuwaiti woman was arrested in Saudi Arabia for driving. She was taking her elderly, sick father to the hospital. The woman was driving in an area just over the border, in Saudi Arabia, with her father in the passenger seat, when she was stopped by police. Kuwaitis and Saudi citizens regularly cross the border and communities living along the frontier are often a mix of people from both countries. The woman is being held in custody pending an investigation.

Follow Shahla Khan Salter on Twitter:

Let expat women drive first

Article from Okaz and Saudi Gazette, (Okaz is an Arabic daily, Saudi Gazette is an English paper) dated November 11, 2013. A link to the story is here, and the text is below. All the comments on this article, as of the time I'm posting this, are pro-women driving and are worth reading at the link.

by Ahmad Al-Sulami and Adel Babkair

JEDDAH — A number of men and women who spoke to Okaz/Saudi Gazette on the issue of women driving have voiced their opposition to women getting behind the wheel.

Some even suggested that in the initial stage, expatriate women should be allowed to drive in order to prepare society.

The majority of men said they opposed women driving as it goes against society’s norms and values.

“Women should be accompanied by a guardian to protect them from possible harassment,” said one man, a view echoed by many others.

“Women already face harassment at the hands of young Saudi men and this harassment will only increase if they are allowed to drive,” added another man on condition of anonymity.

Another concern was that women drivers would only increase traffic and congestion on Saudi roads, an issue that traffic police have to address.

Some called for allowing women to recruit drivers while others suggested only women over the age of 45 should be allowed to drive, as they are less likely to be harassed.

Nearly all respondents agreed that Saudi society is not yet ready for women drivers, especially in the absence of strict monitoring by the concerned bodies.

Many women also spoke out on the issue, with some saying both men and women were not ready to see women get behind the wheel while others said it was a personal decision that should be made with the approval of parents or guardians.

“Our society is not yet accustomed to women’s participation in a number of matters and are used to men driving cars,” said one respondent.

Some women suggested that expatriate women should be allowed to drive initially, with Saudi women getting permission once society is ready.

“There must first be strict and deterrent regulations, laws and punishments before women can drive safely,” said another respondent.

Saudi Arabia's Driven Women: The New Yorker

New Yorker blogger Kathleen Zoepf wrote this from Riyadh, dated November 10, 2013. A link to the article is here, and the text is below.

On Monday evening, shortly after the call to Isha prayers had sounded from hundreds of mosques across Riyadh, a half dozen women gathered for a small dinner party—gender-segregated, like most Saudi social gatherings—in a residential compound in the eastern part of the city. Their black abayas and headscarves put away in a cupboard near the villa’s front door, most of the women wore trousers and silky evening tops. As a maid carried in a platter of roast lamb, one of the women, Fawzia al-Bakr, a writer and university professor, peered distractedly at her iPhone.

“This is not the way to address a king!” Bakr began tapping away at the screen, murmuring apologies to the table. Bakr is one of the forty-seven Saudi women who, on November 6, 1990, drove in a convoy down Riyadh’s busy Tahlia Street, demonstrating for the right to drive. (Tahlia is the Arabic word for desalination plant, an important landmark in any Saudi city.) The forty-seven women, still collectively known in the kingdom as “the drivers,” were detained, fired from their jobs, and widely pilloried. Today, Bakr is a supporter of the October 26th Campaign, a group of young Saudi women—and a few men—who in late September posted an online petition calling for Saudi women to be allowed to drive. The group has been collecting videos of Saudi women behind the wheel. In response to a request from Prince Khalid bin Bandar, the governor of Riyadh, the October 26th campaigners were drafting a new petition, Bakr explained. Prince Khalid had offered to take the petition to King Abdullah, so it was important that the language be just right, forceful but courteous.

Bakr sent off her edits to the latest draft and put her phone down to the left of her plate, where she could keep an eye on it. She joined her fellow guests in praising the Jerusalem artichoke soup, potato gratin, and purées of celeriac and kale that their hostess, a Danish expatriate who has lived in the Kingdom for decades, had prepared. (Most of the vegetables had been brought in from Copenhagen two days earlier, with the cheerful complicity of Saudi customs.) The women chatted about Arabic sitcoms, about their children, about José Saramago. But the topic of driving kept cropping up; it is infantilizing to spend so much time waiting to be driven here and there, Saudi women say, and drivers’ salaries place an enormous financial burden on many households. The women in the group agreed that the protest had reached a particularly sensitive stage.

The campaigners had planned a “drive in” on October 26th, but an Interior Ministry threat to arrest women who drove meant that participation was smaller than they’d hoped. And just hours before the Monday dinner party, Secretary of State John Kerry, in a press conference with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, had dodged a reporter’s question about women driving, saying that “it’s up to Saudi Arabia to make its own decisions about its own social structure.”

Still, the women seemed optimistic that King Abdullah would react favorably to the new petition. “I think the decision will come,” Hessah al-Sheikh, another of the women at the dinner, told me when I spoke to her again on Wednesday. Sheikh also took part in the 1990 demonstration for the right to drive and, last year, she co-authored a book documenting the experiences of the participants. Wednesday marked the twenty-third anniversary of that first driving protest, Sheikh noted. Many of the forty-seven women are still close, she said, and each year they exchange phone calls and messages to mark the occasion.

Arguments against women driving have ranged from the idea that the right to drive might lead women to leave their homes unnecessarily, to the notion, raised in September by a conservative cleric, that driving could damage women’s ovaries. But today, Sheikh believes, most Saudis agree that women should be permitted to drive. “We need to open schools for teaching women to drive,” she said. “We need to prepare our society. Some of the religious people are against it, but we want to make it a choice, so that those women who want to drive can drive.”

One of the original organizers of the October 26th Campaign, a woman in her mid-thirties, said that the petition that was sent to King Abdullah through Prince Khalid this week had employed “a new tone that has never been used before.”

“We didn’t write ‘We hope that you may help us,’” she said. “We wrote, ‘These are our rights.’”

Photograph by Shawn Baldwin/The New York Times/Redux.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Word to the west: many Saudi women oppose lifting the driving ban

Article appearing in the UK's Guardian, regarding a survey of female university studies at al-Laith College. This College is part of Umm al-Qura University based in Mecca. It is a teacher's training college, per Wikipedia. In this blogger's opinion, these students are not a good sample reflecting all women in Saudi Arabia. A link to the article is here, and the story is posted below. If you go to the link there are many many comments from western readers.

Westerners should be wary of trying to impose their version of feminism on Saudi women. It's not always welcome.
Saudi driving
A Saudi woman sits behind the wheel of her vehicle, defying a ban on women drivers. Photograph: STR New/Reuters

If you read any western coverage of the recent protest of Saudi Arabia's female driving ban, you probably thought, "finally, the kingdom is waking up". But the problem is, that's not what many Saudis think, including Saudi women.

The Saudi economic newspaper El-Iqtisadiah ran a front-page news story suggesting that women's driving is just a luxury rather than a necessity and that protesters against the ban seek to undermine the kingdom's stability and create sedition.

That wasn't just propaganda. I conducted a survey of my former Saudi female students at Al-Lith College for Girls (at Um al-Qura University, Mecca). They helped me distribute a large-scale questionnaire to their colleagues from different departments of the college and to their female relatives and friends. It wasn't exactly scientific, but their responses are worth considering. I offered them anonymity in their answers, but even so, some wanted to be recognized.

To my surprise, 134 (out of 170) respondents said female driving is not a necessity and that it opens the door for sexual harassment and encourages women to not wear the niqab under the pretext that they cannot see the road when driving. Some also fear that it gives husbands a chance to betray and agree with the assertion that it creates sedition in society.

Mashaal El-Maliki, a housewife:

Female driving will destroy family life because it will give husbands a chance to know other women who (as drivers) will be free and without guardians.
Bedoor Elmaliki, a student:
In my point of view, female driving is not a necessity because in the country of the two holy mosques every woman is like a queen. There is (someone) who cares about her; and a woman needs nothing as long as there is a man who loves her and meets her needs; as for the current campaigns calling for women's driving, they are not reasonable. Female driving is a matter of fun and amusement, let us be reasonable and thank God so much for the welfare we live in.
Maqbula El-Malawi, a student:
Honestly, I don't like women to drive. This will create sedition … I agree that there are already different kinds of sedition we see every day, but the right place for a woman is her house; this will really save her from what is happening in the outside world.
A Saudi mother:
If they allow women to drive, there will be many negative effects on the whole society (eg, sexual harassment). Furthermore, there will be many things that don't comply with our Islamic principles. This will open the door for women to imitate men in everything, and who knows … there would be calls for banning niqab. This way a woman will lose her femininity; and if a woman goes out without a guardian, she may lose her honor.
Banaader Elmaliki, a 4th year mathematics student:
[The driving movement is] just a crazy imitation of America, and doesn't mean more liberation for women. It rather means liquidation of the society and inferiority of its moral values. The biggest evidence on this is the liquidation of American society; we don't want this in our kingdom.
The results of my informal survey were almost identical to those of a questionnaire my former Saudi students conducted. They found 3,209 out of 3,710 Saudi women opposed changing the driving laws, for the same aforementioned reasons.

Even women who supported driving (about 501) stressed that their support has conditions. Crucially, they stipulated that there must be laws that deter men against sexual harassment and that allow women to drive safely in lanes of their own.

This stresses that the continuous attempts from the west to impose its values elsewhere are pointless. Western feminism is not only unlikely to take hold in countries like Saudi Arabia, it is not what many women in the kingdom want. Consider what Amany Abdulfadl, member of the Egyptian Centre for Monitoring Women's Priorities, said in a 2007 piece in Al-Ahram Weekly: the west's ''definition of equality cannot work in our Arab world because neither will our women find jungles to cut wood in, nor our men ever have breasts to feed babies.''

People in Saudi Arabia have their own moral views and needs. What works in other societies may not fit in Saudi, and the reverse. In short, instead of launching campaigns to change the driving laws in the kingdom, the west should first ask Saudi women if they really want this or not, and western countries should accept the result, even if it's not to their liking.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Kuwaiti woman caught driving in Saudi Arabia

The Kuwait English language daily, Kuwait Times, reports that a Kuwaiti woman was arrested just over the border in Saudi Arabia. The story has been picked up in many papers around the world - a link to the Kuwait Times story is here,  and the text is below. 

KUWAIT: A Kuwaiti woman was arrested in Saudi Arabia after she was caught driving in the kingdom where ultraconservative laws ban women from taking the wheel. According to a Khafji police report, the woman was caught driving a Chevrolet Epica on the ‘Sitteen Road’ in front of a hotel in the area located near the border with Kuwait, while a Kuwaiti man was in the passenger’s seat. The woman told the officers that the man was her father, adding that he is diabetic and cannot drive and that she had to take him to the hospital for treatment. The woman remains in custody pending investigations.

Saudi authorities have warned women of legal measures if they defy a long-standing driving ban in the kingdom. At least 16 women were stopped by police last Saturday and were fined and forced along with their male guardians to pledge to obey the kingdom’s laws, as more than 60 women said they defied the ban.
A growing number of men are quietly helping steer the campaign, risking their jobs and social condemnation in the conservative kingdom. Some of the men have even been questioned by authorities, and one was detained by a branch of the Saudi Interior Ministry – a move that sent a chill through some of the activists working to put women behind the wheel. In the run-up to last weekend’s protest, men played a key role in helping wives, sisters and female friends to enjoy what they believe is a fundamental right. Since the campaign was launched in September, they have produced videos of women driving and put them on social networks. They have helped protect the female drivers by forming packs of two or three cars to surround them and ward off potential harassment. And some have simply ridden as passengers with the women as they run their daily errands.
By A Saleh

Kerry says Saudi Arabia must decide on women drivers

From AFP - a link to the story is here, the story is below.

November 4, 2013 - US Secretary of State John Kerry said it was up to Saudi Arabia to decide when the time was right to allow women to drive.

"It's no secret that in the United States of America we embrace equality for everybody regardless of gender, race, or any other qualification," Kerry said at a press conference in Riyadh.

"But it's up to Saudi Arabia to make its own decision about its own social structure and other choices, and timing," he added.

Last week the United States said it supports the "universal rights" of women to drive in Saudi Arabia, after an October weekend protest there saw several women defy the law by taking the steering wheel.
"We support the full inclusion of women in Saudi society. People throughout the world share the same universal rights to assemble and express themselves peacefully," said State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki.

"So certainly, we would support their ability to drive," Psaki said when asked about the Saudi campaign, in which women were encouraged to get behind the steering wheel on October 26 even if it meant confronting authorities.

But Kerry said after talks with Saudi leaders: "There's a healthy debate in Saudi Arabia about this issue, but I think that debate is best left to the Saudi Arabian people who are engaged in it."

He added however that everyone knew where the United States stood on this issue.

At least 16 women were stopped by police during a protest last month and were fined and forced along with their male guardians to pledge to obey the conservative-kingdom's laws.

A Saudi video mocking the kingdom's unique ban on female driving has gone viral, featuring a male performer singing "no woman, no drive", an adaptation of Bob Marley's "No Cry" hit.