Thursday, October 12, 2017

Saudi groom leaves wedding after bride's father insists she drives

The Daily Mail in the UK and other outlets are reporting on this story. This version is from the News of Bahrain, reprinted from the Daily Mail. Dateline 10/10/17. A link to the story in the Bahrain Times is here.

RiyadhA groom in Saudi Arabia walked out of his own wedding ceremony after the bride’s father insisted that his daughter be allowed to drive after their marriage.
The bride’s father had demanded that his daughter get a driving license and a car when Saudi Arabia lifts its ban on women driving in June 2018.
The groom, who had agreed to a dowry of 40,000 riyals ($10,666) as well as letting his soon-to-be wife continue working after getting married, was so surprised by the additional demand that he left the ceremony.
The father’s request was made just minutes before the religious wedding ceremony was set to begin, according to Al-Marsd.
The groom quickly rejected the request and walked out of the building, leaving his family behind.
He then asked his cousins to bring dinner to his fiancee’s family, but did not participate in the feast.
Last month, Saudi Arabia lifted its long-criticized ban on women driving. The lift will go into effect in June 2018.
The historic decision to allow women to drive won plaudits internationally and inside the kingdom last month.
King Salman’s decree, which takes effect next June, is part of an ambitious reform push that runs the risk of a backlash from religious hardliners.
US President Donald Trump welcomed the decision as ‘a positive step toward promoting the rights and opportunities of women in Saudi Arabia’.
British Prime Minister Theresa May hailed it as an ‘important step towards gender equality’.
Saudi Arabia will use the ‘preparatory period’ until June to expand licensing facilities and develop the infrastructure to accommodate millions of new motorists, state media said.
With more than half the country aged under 25, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the king’s son and the architect of the reforms, is seen as catering to the aspirations of youths.

DailyMail
Katherine Zoepf writes this opinion piece in the New Yorker  of October 13, 2017. A link to the story is here, and the story is pasted below.

 In granting Saudi women the right to drive, King Salman and his family, too, were speaking more to the world than to their subjects.


On the last Tuesday in September, Rindala al-Ajaji, a twenty-year-old N.Y.U. student from Saudi Arabia, was spending the afternoon doing homework in the Bobst Library. Shortly after 3 P.M., she took a break to check her Facebook feed and saw a headline that struck her as an obvious attempt at satire: “Saudi Arabia Agrees to Let Women Drive.” Irritated—Saudi women living overseas are wearingly familiar with their personal freedoms being treated as fodder for comedy—Ajaji clicked on the link. When she realized that it wasn’t an Onion article but rather a breaking-news story in the Times, Ajaji burst into tears. King Salman had issued a royal decree granting Saudi women the right to drive. She rushed out of the library and called her mother in Riyadh. Ajaji could scarcely make out her mother’s voice over the sounds of jubilation in the background. “I could just hear screaming,” she told me. The family was hurrying out to an impromptu party at a relative’s house, and Ajaji wished that she were home. “I didn’t think I’d see this happen in my lifetime,” she said.
Ajaji had grown up hearing stories about the forty-seven female activists who, on November 6, 1990, drove through Riyadh to protest for Saudi women’s right to drive. Two of Ajaji’s maternal aunts, Wafa and Majida al-Muneef, were among “the drivers,” as the demonstrators are collectively known. The drivers were jailed, fired from their jobs, and excoriated from mosque pulpits across the kingdom, but, for the Muneef sisters’ family, the protest became a source of quiet pride. “Growing up, November 6th was always a day to remember,” Ajaji said. “I was raised with the idea that it’s one of the biggest things that has ever happened in Saudi women’s history.”
International media coverage of last month’s royal decree focussed, understandably enough, on the reactions of the Saudi female right-to-drive activists, who have become relatively well-known figures in the West. But it’s worth noting that, in her abiding and passionate interest in the right-to-drive movement, Ajaji is unusual. For most Saudi women, even in the generation that has grown up with the Internet, the protest in 1990 is not widely remembered. At the time, the international media covered it as a major story—the drivers had intentionally looked to attract attention from the high number of foreign journalists who were in the kingdom covering the buildup to the first Gulf War—and it subsequently became an important reference point for Western scholars and journalists writing about Saudi Arabia. Yet, within the kingdom, the protest retained no such status. After Saudi leaders satisfied themselves that the dissenters had been crushed, the episode effectively vanished from public conversation. In nearly a decade of reporting trips to the kingdom, I have met no more than a handful of Saudis who have even heard of it.
In 2007, on my first trip to Saudi Arabia, I spent more than two months interviewing dozens of female students at three Saudi universities. Rather pedantically, I made a point of asking each young woman what she thought about a petition that the Saudi feminist Wajeha al-Huwaider had recently submitted to King Abdullah, asking that women be given the right to drive. I’d hoped to turn up an intriguing theme for an article, but, to my disappointment, Huwaider’s name and my descriptions of her efforts produced nothing but blank stares. Though the young women were all bright and well informed, they were neither aware of Huwaider nor interested in driving, and seemed puzzled about why I had imagined that they would be.
In 2010, visiting the kingdom to report on the women’s-rights campaigns that had begun to proliferate thanks to the Internet, I went to meet Huwaider herself, at her home in Dhahran. At the time, Huwaider was running several online campaigns, including the right-to-drive campaign, and a campaign calling for an end to Saudi Arabia’s strict guardianship laws, which put Saudi women under the legal authority of male relatives. Earlier in the trip, I’d met with women’s-rights activists in Riyadh who were working on these issues and so, after the interview, and because Huwaider had mentioned that she didn’t know the women, I suggested making introductions. Huwaider demurred, which baffled me; I’d imagined that, by co√∂rdinating with activists in another city, she’d be able to increase the awareness of her campaigns within the kingdom. I spent five more years reporting on activism in Saudi Arabia before I finally understood that, for Huwaider and other social-justice and pro-democracy advocates in the kingdom, their fellow-Saudis have never been the primary intended audience. They were speaking to the world outside.
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Activists can properly take some of the credit for King Salman’s decision to overturn the ban on women driving. But their activism was of a rather peculiar kind: it was aimed less at galvanizing fellow-citizens than it was at attracting, and holding, the sympathies of foreigners. There are several reasons for this. For one thing, the Saudi government maintains a high degree of control over media outlets in the kingdom. And, in a society with strong traditions of privacy and weak traditions of individual rights, activists are reflexively viewed with suspicion. But the most important reason for Saudi activists choosing to focus on foreigners is that the kingdom is a kingdom: domestic public opinion means infinitely less to an absolute monarch than it does to an elected official.
In overturning the ban, the King and his family, too, were speaking more to the world than to their subjects. News of King Salman’s decree, which will allow Saudi women to begin driving in the kingdom next June, was released simultaneously in Riyadh and Washington, D.C.—and it was no accident that the splashier media event, a press conference hosted by Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the United States, was the one held in D.C. While Prince Khalid’s meeting with reporters was held in the mid-afternoon, maximizing the announcement’s effect on the news cycle in the U.S., Saudi leaders chose a more subdued approach—a short statement read aloud on the nightly news—for the domestic announcement. Many Saudis, including Hessah al-Sheikh, an academic who took part in the driving protest in 1990, missed the initial broadcast. “It was late, and I was already in bed, reading a book,” Sheikh told me. She was startled when a niece, who had been watching the news, called after 10 P.M. “I was very surprised. It won’t be easy for many people to have this happen.”
For Sheikh, part of the surprise was that the decree was issued by King Salman, a ruler who, in an earlier role, as the governor of Riyadh, had led the crackdown on her and the other forty-six drivers in the protest. “Everyone had this expectation that, once Salman is king, you can forget about women’s rights,” Dara Sahab, an attorney in Jeddah, told me. Unlike his much beloved predecessor, King Abdullah, whose eponymous scholarship program sent thousands of young Saudis to study overseas, and who allowed Saudi women to become lawyers and to work in retail, King Salman has a longstanding reputation as a hard-liner. His ascension to the throne, in January, 2015, had an immediate chilling effect on activism in the kingdom, and it was followed by a seventy-six-per-cent spike in the rate of executions by beheading.
It seems fairly safe to conclude that, with his driving decree, King Salman was not announcing any newfound ideological commitment to human rights or gender equality. During the past two weeks, numerous academics, human-rights researchers, and expatriate Saudi dissidents have offered theories to explain Salman’s motivations. Many of these analysts have suggested that the decree was an effort to deflect attention from the arrest, in September, of more than thirty dissidents and clerics, and from a United Nations Human Rights Council vote on whether to investigate Saudi war crimes in Yemen. But while these specific events may have played a role in the timing, it is likely that King Salman’s decision was largely an acknowledgment of a fact that the kingdom has taken years to realize: Saudi Arabia can no longer afford to ignore global opinion about its treatment of women.
For years, high oil prices kept the ruling family comfortable. But, in 2014, plummeting oil prices sent Saudi leaders racing to diversify their economy. The following January, King Salman’s son, Mohammed bin Salman (who was named Crown Prince this June) was placed in charge of the effort. Saudi Arabian leaders were then finally forced to think hard about the gender-segregated infrastructure—the women-only offices, shops, bank branches, sections of government agencies, and all the rest—that have been built and maintained for decades at enormous expense. These leaders have shown no sign of wanting to abandon gender segregation wholesale, but some analysts believe that they have begun to recognize the real costs involved in squandering the talents of nearly half their population.
“Saudi women get better degrees, and they work harder. They have more to prove,” Bernard Haykel, a professor in Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, told me. “The Saudis finally understand that the economy will not diversify or reform without bringing women into the workforce.” But even if they are soon able to drive, millions of Saudi women won’t be employed overnight. If Saudi Arabia is to avoid a prolonged period of austerity, Haykel explained, it needs foreign investment. Mohammed bin Salman understands that the foreign investors the kingdom hopes to attract aren’t impressed by “a weird situation where women aren’t present,” Haykel said.
The Saudi government has many issues that it needs to discuss with the world, but women’s-rights issues were derailing those conversations. Giving women the right to drive was a relatively painless concession for the king to make. Some Saudis warn that the decision to end the driving ban may turn out to be mostly symbolic. Women will still need power of attorney from a male relative to acquire a car, and will risk jail time for disobeying male guardians. Activists in the country will still live under threat. (According to one women’s-rights campaigner I emailed, at least two dozen female intellectuals, including some who have not been involved in recent right-to-drive efforts, received threatening calls from security officers at the Diwan, warning them against even making positive public comments on the new decree.) But, to my surprise, several of the Saudi women I’ve spoken to in the past two weeks expressed relief that their leaders have moved to retake control of the narrative about their country. In a Facebook post shortly after the announcement, Dara Sahab, the Jeddah attorney, summed up the general mood: “Good news to the rest of the world. You can leave us alone now.”

The Day Came

It has been two weeks and two days since the royal decree was issued to allow women to get driver's licenses in Saudi Arabia next year. It seemed for so long, that the day would never come. And then it did. I was out of the country, without my laptop. An American friend posted the story on facebook and tagged me. It took me by surprise, yet it was, and is, glorious news.  For eight years, I've been posting stories and opinion pieces about the issues surrounding women driving in Saudi Arabia. There were weeks when there was no news. The issue seemed to fade into the background. Yet, from my own years living in Saudi Arabia, I knew that the frustrations of Saudi women continued, as they tried to carry on their daily lives with the added hurdle of transportation.

And then it happened. I always wondered what it would be like. Would women take to the streets right away? No, they did not. Would there be wide protests? No, there were not. Saudi society is absorbing this change. The first driving school for women is said to be underway. Authorities are planning the implementation of the law. Women are choosing their first cars, and the auto industry is no doubt celebrating at the new market they can sell to in the Kingdom.

As for this blog, it moves into a new stage of tracking how the implementation of the law will happen. I am particularly fascinated to see how women's added independent mobility will change daily life there. I will keep posting stories on this, as well as opinion pieces from various points of view.

Congratulations to all those who fought for this change, and to all their supporters behind the scenes. I congratulate those who spoke up for women driving at all levels of society, and to the brave men who supported the women they know in their quest for this privilege.

Sometimes the end of a great endeavor ends quietly. I think the end of this particular endeavor is actually the beginning of a more fruitful and fulfilling era for all in Saudi Arabia.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Once Shunned as ‘Drivers,’ Saudi Women Who Fought Ban Now Celebrate

On October 7, 2017, Ben Hubbard of the New York Times reported on the '47', those women who drove in 1990 in defiance of the ban on women driving. This is a landmark piece as it interviews several of the driving activists and tells what happened to them after their driving demonstration. A link to the story is here,  and the story is pasted in below.


    A pair of married couples celebrating the news of Saudi women being able to drive. The husbands stood outside their cars as their wives posted selfies. Credit Tasneem Alsultan for The New York Times

They were arrested, suspended from jobs, shunned by relatives and denounced by clerics as loose women out to destroy society. Their offense? They did what many in Saudi Arabia considered unthinkable: getting in cars and driving.
Their protest in 1990 against the kingdom’s ban on women driving failed, and the women paid dearly for it, with the stigma of being “drivers” clinging to them for years.
So last month, when King Salman announced that the ban on women driving would be lifted next June, few were happier than the first women to demonstrate for that right — almost three decades ago.
“I’d thought maybe I’d die before I saw it,” said Nourah Alghanem, who had helped plan the protest. Now she’s 61 and retired with five grandchildren. “What’s important is that our kingdom entered the 21st century — finally!”
The backlash against the 47 women who protested illustrates how deeply the driving ban was embedded in Saudi Arabia’s conservative society, reinforced by the state and its religious apparatus.

But since then, globalization, social media, economic pressures and leadership changes finally created the conditions for the ban to end.
These are dizzying days in Saudi Arabia.
Carmakers are now targeting advertisements toward Saudi women, and a women’s university is planning a driving school.
And the changes are not only related to the prospect of so many new drivers on the kingdom’s highways. At a public celebration last month, crowds of men and women danced together as a D.J. played music. An end to the ban on cinemas is expected soon.
But in 1990, when the four dozen women took an extraordinary risk by fighting the driving ban, conditions in the kingdom were notably different.
“I’d thought maybe I’d die before I saw it,” said Nourah Alghanem, who helped plan the 1990 protest against the driving ban, which is being lifted next year. Credit Tasneem Alsultan for The New York Times
 Controlling Women
At the time of the protest, Ms. Alghanem was 34, with a high school degree, a husband, four children and a job at an elementary school.
“I didn’t have anything interesting in my life,” she recalled.
At the time, Saudi women were severely restricted. The culture was highly patriarchal, and clerics, thanks to their alliance with the royal family, had tremendous power to defend the kingdom against what they considered to be corrupting influences.
Much of that meant controlling women, and they saw the driving ban as necessary to prevent adultery and other social ills.
“Allowing women to drive contributes to the downfall of the society,” the kingdom’s top cleric at the time wrote in a fatwa that was removed recently from a government website. “This is well known.”
Women who chafed under the ban saw an opportunity when Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi strongman, invaded Kuwait in 1990. American forces flooded the kingdom, including American servicewomen who drove military vehicles. Kuwaiti women who had fled the invasion also drove.
Ms. Alghanem took note.
“I saw that we as Saudi women were powerless,” she said.
She invited other women to her home to discuss the issue, and they later decided to take action. They sent a letter to Salman — at the time the governor of Riyadh Province — telling him that they planned to drive.
They never heard back, they said, so on Nov. 6, 1990, they met near a supermarket in Riyadh, piled into 14 cars piloted by women with valid foreign licenses and drove around town.
They were social outliers, backed by no political party, and other Saudi women did not rush to join them. Many came from affluent families and had studied abroad. They included teachers, professors, a social worker, a photographer and a dentist.
Most were married with children; at least two were pregnant. One woman joined late, with her two daughters, one of whom was breast-feeding. Some had defied their male relatives to show up. Supportive husbands and brothers dropped off others at the meeting place.
Word spread, and the women were stopped by both the traffic police and the religious police, some of whom furiously banged on the cars.
“‘I want to dig a hole to bury you all!’” Fawziah al-Bakr, an education professor, recalled one man shouting at her. “They were thinking that we were going to destroy this country.”
They were taken to the police station and released around dawn, after they and their male relatives signed pledges that the women would not drive again.
“It is not just driving a car, it is driving a life,” said Asma Alaboudi, a school social worker who participated in the 1990 protest. Credit Tasneem Alsultan for The New York Times
Furious Backlash
The next morning, Asma Alaboudi, a school social worker who had participated, overheard her colleagues saying that the women at the protest had burned their clothes, worn bikinis and danced in the streets — all grave acts that had not happened.
Soon, the women’s names were distributed, inflaming public anger.
King Fahd issued a decree suspending those who had government jobs, and preachers excoriated them during Friday prayers.
“At that point, the society revolted,” Ms. Bakr recalled.
Monera Alnahedh, who later became an international development worker, said her father quit praying at his local mosque after the preacher said the women had been inseminated by 10 men.
Officials from the Interior Ministry came to the home of Madeha Alajroush, a photographer, to confiscate and destroy all her negatives — 15 years of work.
“That was a way of punishing me,” she said.
Some friends and relatives shunned the women.
“It was a very, very scary environment,” Ms. Alajroush said.
Photo
Monera Alnahedh, who became an international development worker, said her father quit praying at his local mosque after the preacher said the protesting women had been inseminated by 10 men. Credit Tasneem Alsultan for The New York Times

‘A Decade of Silence’

The harsh response from the state and society buried the issue of women driving.
“It was a very heavy blow on the women who drove, and it was perceived by the society as a very heavy blow,” said Ms. Alnahedh, the development worker. “There was a decade of silence.”
The suspended women struggled to find work, with some choosing to pursue advanced degrees.
About two years later, a princess intervened with the king, who returned them to their jobs and paid some of their lost wages.
Many of the 47 faded into private life, while others looked for ways to help women at girls’ schools, women’s universities and in programs for abused women and children.
Continue reading the main story
Photo
After she participated in the protest, officials from the Interior Ministry came to the home of Madeha Alajroush, a photographer, to confiscate and destroy all her negatives, 15 years of work, as punishment. Credit Tasneem Alsultan for The New York Times
Slowly, society changed.
University enrollment for both women and men rose, and in 2005, King Abdullah created a scholarship program that sent hundreds of thousands of young Saudis, including many women, abroad, broadening their perspectives.
He added women to the Shura Council, an advisory body, and social media spread among the kingdom’s youth, giving them freedom online that they lacked in real life.
The internet eroded the monopoly Saudi clerics had on religious interpretation, and many Saudis realized how differently Islam was practiced in other countries.
The government allowed women to work in new jobs, making their daily commute an issue.
Younger activists started to revive the struggle to let women drive.
In 2011, Manal al-Sherif posted a video of herself driving online and was detained. In 2013, dozens of Saudi women drove to protest the ban.
In 2014, Loujain Hathloul tried to cross the border from the United Arab Emirates into Saudi Arabia in her car and was jailed for 73 days.
Few of the women who had driven in 1990 joined the new protests, but they cheered the younger women.
“We were very angry,” Ms. Alajroush, the photographer, said of Ms. Hathloul’s detention. “But inside of me, I thought that was a big step forward because finally we were taken seriously.”
Photo
Fawziah al-Bakr, a professor, with her son, Motaz Alyahya, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She was one of the 47 women who took to the road in 1990 to demand the right to drive. Credit Tasneem Alsultan for The New York Times

‘Driving a Life’

In 2015, Salman became king, and he empowered his young son, Mohammed bin Salman, who is now crown prince.
As the price of oil sank, sapping the economy, the crown prince laid out a sweeping plan to reform the economy, including increasing women’s participation in the work force.
Other steps followed. Women voted and ran for seats on local councils in 2015 for the first time, and some won. Public schools were told to offer physical education for girls, which clerics had argued threatened their femininity.
Then late last month, Ms. Alghanem, who had held the first meeting on the driving ban in 1990, was playing cards when her phone suddenly began overflowing with messages, she said.
Her husband called, shouting, “Congratulations!” and told her the ban was being lifted.
Ms. Alghanem — who had merely ridden along in 1990 and still cannot drive — now plans to learn.
“I must get a license and drive,” she said.
The government has played down any role the women activists played in prompting the decision, and some of the women say security officials have told them in phone calls to keep quiet.
The Information Ministry denied such calls were being made.
Many Saudis argue that the women exacerbated the issue by provoking the conservatives. In the kingdom, they argue, rights are given by the ruler, not publicly demanded by the people.
Continue reading the main story
Photo
A woman parking her car in a town in Saudi Arabia owned by the oil company Aramco. In this so-called “mini-America,” woman are allowed to drive. Credit Tasneem Alsultan for The New York Times
“It is natural that they are happy that they have been given their legal right that they had demanded before,” Prince Abdulrahman bin Musaid, a businessman, wrote on Twitter. But he called the idea that the women’s “struggle” had influenced the decision “a great fantasy.”
The women believe the government will not acknowledge them so as not to encourage other activists.
Many restrictions on women remain, including so-called guardianship laws that give Saudi men power over their female relatives on certain matters. But the original protesters are overjoyed that their daughters and granddaughters will have freer lives than they did, thanks to the automobile.
“That I am driving means that I know where I am going, when I’m coming back and what I’m doing,” said Ms. Alaboudi, the social worker.
“It is not just driving a car,” she said, “it is driving a life.”
Correction: October 7, 2017
An earlier version of a picture caption with this article misidentified a Saudi woman who took to the road in 1990 to demand the right to drive. She is Meshael al-Bakr, not Fawziah, who is her sister.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Once women take the wheel, Saudi Arabia will never be the same

Saudi women's rights activist and best-selling author, Manal al-Sharif, wrote this opinion piece for the Washington Post dated October 5, 2017. A link to the story is here,  and the text is pasted below. The world has been waiting for Ms. al-Sharif to speak up about the news that women will be able to get driver's licenses in Saudi Arabia. And she has spoken! Bravo, Manal!

Saudi Arabia is finally freeing itself from the grip of decades of religious fundamentalism. The key to this change? Car keys. On Sept. 26, the Saudi government formally announced that it would lifted the ban on women driving. Saudi writers have compared the struggle that led to this day to the battle of the royal decree to open the first government girls’ school in the kingdom. The decree came three decades after the founding of Saudi Arabia. But this revolutionary moment is about so much more than driving. It is about changing the very direction of the country.
Denying women the right to drive has imposed huge costs on Saudi citizens. Up to 1.5 million foreign men must be paid to work as drivers. Many neither speak nor read Arabic, and some of these “drivers” have never driven a car before. A paltry 15 percent of Saudi women work outside their homes, in part because hiring a private driver can cost between one-third and two-thirds of a woman’s salary. Saudi men must be responsible for the transportation of their wives, sisters and mothers. In desperation, women without access to male drivers have put boys as young as 9 years old behind the wheel, propped up on pillows to see over the dashboard. It is no wonder that the kingdom has among the highest traffic fatality rates in the world.
Beyond the social and economic costs, literally forcing women to remain in the backseat has hobbled Saudi Arabia’s global progress. It has the world’s second-largest proven oil reserves but ranks behind Cyprus and Malta on the United Nations Human Development Index. Now at last we have a path forward: an open Saudi society for men and women.
Driving is a start. It can help end the larger oppressive guardianship system, which requires women to obtain permission from a male relative for the most basic decisions and activities. (Interestingly, the kingdom has announced that a woman will not need permission from her guardian to obtain a driver’s license.)
Today, guardianship and control over women are less about ancient traditions inside the kingdom — after all, the prophet Muhammad married a successful businesswoman — than about fundamentalist religious forces enforcing their grip on society. Many of the current restrictions on women were imposed after the neighboring Iranian Revolution and the armed seizure of Mecca’s Grand Mosque by Sunni radicals for two weeks in 1979. Following those events, women disappeared from Saudi state television and newspapers, coupled with a huge crackdown on women employment. Fundamentalists also renewed their calls to end women’s education. But the current generation of Saudi women has refused to listen. Women now make up more than half of all Saudi university students — 51.8 percent as of 2015, according to the Ministry of Education.
For the first time, I dare to dream of a different Saudi Arabia in the coming years. I have 10 wishes for women’s equality in my country: I wish for a kingdom where the guardianship system ceases to exist; where at 18 or 21 years of age, women are recognized by law as adults; where women can study for any college degree that they want, including the “male-only” degree of engineering; where women can work in any field they choose; where women who have been jailed do not need a male guardian’s permission to leave; where it is a crime to marry off a child; where women are appointed as ambassadors and ministers and heads of organizations; where Saudi mothers can pass their citizenship on to their children; where the law protects mothers and children; and where women can compete as athletes on any playing field.
More change is coming. For the first time in the kingdom’s history, leadership is passing to a younger generation. Saudi Arabia has long been known for its octogenarian kings, but today the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, is only 32. As he told The Post’s David Ignatius in April, “I’m young. Seventy percent of our citizens are young. We don’t want to waste our lives in this whirlpool that we were in the past 30 years. We want to end this epoch now. We want, as the Saudi people, to enjoy the coming days, and concentrate on developing our society and developing ourselves as individuals and families, while retaining our religion and customs. We will not continue to be in the post-’79 era. That age is over.”
Seven years ago, I cried on the streets of Saudi Arabia. I cried because after a doctor’s appointment, I could not find a male driver to take me home. I had to endure harassment as I walked alone. I had an American driver’s license and I knew how to drive, but the government would not allow it. To drive while female was punishable by arrest and jail time.
 Indeed, in May 2011, I was arrested and jailed after I drove on Saudi streets as part of the June 17th movement to protest the ban. Last week, I cried again, but my tears were tears of joy. In June 2018, seven years after that protest, Saudi women will be free not only to drive their own cars but also to be the drivers of their own lives.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

The story behind the first driving license given to a Saudi woman 66 years ago

Sixty six years ago, a judge granted one woman a license to drive in Saudi Arabia.
Historian Abdulkarim al-Hawqil, speaking to Al Arabiya about what happened at the time, said that the story involved a blind man who had two daughters and a car that was driven by one of them in order for her to care for her father with ease.
There were times when the man would sell items in a local market.
"At that time, people in the market considered it a disgrace," Hawqil said. "How can a lady drive the car? It is strange for them to see behind a woman behind a steering wheel."
The historian went on to say: "The market people took the blind man and his daughters to a judge, Sheikh Ali bin Suleiman al-Roumi. He listened to the words of the blind man and his circumstances and the for his daughter to drive the car.
“The judge became the first to allow a woman to drive in Saudi Arabia, 66 years ago.”
On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia announced that it will end its long-standing prohibition on women drivers following a decree issued by King Salman bin Abdulaziz.
 
Last Update: Sunday, 1 October 2017 KSA 09:27 - GMT 06:27

Car adverts explode as Saudi women's driving ban lifted

Adam Workman of the National reported the following on September 30, 2017. A link to the story is here,  and you can find the story below. I advise following the link to the story so you can see all the graphics and gifs.







Cadillac Arabia was one of the first carmakers to latch onto the announcement of driving rights for Saudi women



Hot on the heels of the excellent news that women in Saudi Arabia will finally be allowed behind the wheel, came countless advertising campaigns with the aim of wooing this unexpected new market.
There have been some clever graphic design campaigns paying heed to the traditional Saudi dress code, but as I scrolled through numerous adverts “welcoming” these women drivers, something niggled me. Behind the “good-vibes” show of support for the decision, opportunism lurks.
Here we take a look at some of the adverts that have come out since the announcement by King Salman, just five days ago.
Jaguar Mena

The stop-motion animation of Jaguar Mena's effort is cute enough. But a handbag featuring spilled contents is a little stereotypical.
Cadillac Arabia
This contribution to me is an airbrushed vision of the past that seems to hint that women should maintain their modesty, despite their newfound transportation freedom.



Ford Middle East
This eyes-in-the-rear-view mirror concept is certainly attention-grabbing. The niqab-draped view out of the front windscreen behind the main focal point suggests a level of driving visibility that looks frankly dangerous.
Nissan Middle East
Keeping it simple appears to have been the smartest option: Nissan Middle East's 2018 GRL KSA number plate is a lesson in classy minimalism that succeeds in telling the story without resorting to tired gender-courting shenanigans. Although even saying girl as opposed to women is a little patronising.
It will be interesting to see the uptake from women drivers in the kingdom when the ban is lifted next year – no doubt many will still be kept from the driver’s seat by familial and societal pressures. But in celebrating this leap forward, let’s not be swayed into thinking that the car manufacturers deserve any particular praise.

Saudi woman secretly driving for 40 years welcomes move

 Habib Toumi, bureau chief of Gulf News, wrote the following story that appeared on September 30, 2017. You can find a link to the story here.  Text is below.

Amsa learnt to drive to take her mother to hospital for regular treatment

Manama: A Saudi woman who has been driving clandestinely for 40 years welcomed the decision to allow women to drive in the kingdom, saying it would greatly help them.
Amsa Bint Hadhel said in the four decades she had been driving in Al Baha, in south-western Saudi Arabia, she never had any problems, was never harassed, and was never arrested or booked by traffic police.

“I learnt to drive out of necessity, and not because I was idle or had ample time to spend or wanted to show off,” she said in remarks published by Saudi daily Okaz on Saturday.

“As a young woman, I used to go with my uncle whenever he drove into town. I watched carefully how he drove, and I learnt how to drive and fix a vehicle.”
When Amsa grew up, she had to take care of her sick mother who needed regular medical treatment.
“We needed to transport her regularly to the public hospital, and I was the only one available as my father was no more. When I got married, one of my conditions was that I be allowed to drive without any problems. My husband had to move to Riyadh, where he worked, and I stayed back home with my mother, and I had to drive her to hospital.”
Amsa said she was very careful not to get into trouble as her mother needed her.
“I had no problem with the family and my community as they understood the need for me to drive. For avoiding the traffic police, I used dirt roads to take my mother to the hospital. It was tough job but I did it as I wanted to look after my mother.”
Amsa said she was looking forward to June 2018, when women will be officially allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia.
“I pray for King Salman [Bin Abdul Aziz] because his decision will ease the situation for so many women. Unfortunately, most people are not really aware of how they [women] have been suffering,” she said.

Saudi Princess Nourah University to establish a women driving school

The Arab News reports on October 1, 2017 that the all-women university, Princess Nourah University, will open a driving school for women. A link to the story is here, and the text is pasted in below.

JEDDAH: Princess Nourah Bin Abdulrahman University announced on Saturday that they are ready to establish a driving school for women in cooperation with the relevant authorities. The university made the announcement on their twitter account, adding that their decision comes in line with the Royal directive to allow women to drive equally with their male peers in the Kingdom.

King Salman issued the decree last Tuesday, according to a royal court statement carried by the Saudi Press Agency (SPA).

“The royal decree will implement the provisions of traffic regulations, including the issuance of driving licenses for men and women alike,” the SPA said.

The decree orders the formation of a ministerial body to give advice on the practicalities of the edict within 30 days and to ensure the full implementation of the order by June 2018. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Saudi women celebrate news they will finally be allowed to drive

CNN reports on Saudi women reacting to the news that they will soon be able to drive. This was reported on 9/27/17. A link  to the story is here. 
Text pasted in below.
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (CNN)Women in Saudi Arabia have been celebrating the news that they will finally be able to drive, a landmark step that brings the conservative kingdom in line with the rest of the world and will allow many more women to work.
The Saudi Foreign ministry announced Tuesday that a royal decree has been issued that will allow women to drive by next June.
"This is a historic big day in our kingdom," Prince Khaled bin Salman, Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the US, said Tuesday in a briefing with reporters.
The move follows years of activism and appeals both from within and outside the Gulf nation.
A Saudi woman walks near car down a street in the Saudi capital Riyadh on September 27, 2017.
Kholoud Attar, a 32-year-old Saudi designer and magazine owner who has been running her business for 10 years, told CNN the change would make a "huge difference" both to her and to her female employees.
"Being able to drive really facilitates a lot of logistics and helps with shaving off the time to get things done," she said. "It's so thrilling to be able to do this."
For her female workers, the biggest gain will be in not having to pay for a driver or other transportation out of their salaries, Attar said. Employing a driver currently eats up a third of the average monthly salary for her staff members, who may also have to find the money for their children's care or education, she said.
As for those who remain opposed to women driving, Attar said, their voices "just became much quieter" thanks to the government saying it would be allowed.

'Huge battle won'

Manal al-Sharif, one of the women behind the Women2Drive campaign in Saudi Arabia, said the magnitude of the decision to allow women to drive "won't make sense" to those outside the country, "but if you live in Saudi Arabia, it's a huge battle that was won today."
She celebrated the victory Tuesday by posting a photo on Twitter of herself behind the wheel of a car.
Sharif, who now lives in Australia, was jailed in Saudi Arabia 2011 after posting a video on YouTube of herself driving a car. The act provoked death threats and spurred her to start the campaign.
Speaking to CNN from Australia, she hailed Saudi Arabia's "new leadership" as young and "courageous." There will be a "huge backlash" from "the extremist Islamists in my country," she said. "It won't go unnoticed."
Economic stagnation, she said, was a big impetus for the decision.
"They cannot afford keeping the women in the back seat. They want to make women fully involved in the economy, and you can't do that -- you can't assign a woman to be in a political position or in a government position, and she still can't drive her own car."

'Life will be faster'

Nouf Alosaimi, a 29-year-old diving instructor based in Jeddah, is pictured in diving gear.
Nouf Alosaimi, a 29-year-old diving instructor based in Jeddah, told CNN that even with a driver, it was a hassle arranging trips and scheduling work appointments.
"Life will be faster," she said, adding that she was looking forward most of all to the adventure that will come with driving her own car.
"I live in a country that I can't explore," she said. "I've always wanted to explore the kingdom's coasts... I can't take someone I don't know to drive me to these places and my brothers are too busy to take me on long trips."
Alosaimi, who recently returned to Saudi Arabia from abroad because of an increase in demand for diving among women, said the decision would increase tourism revenues, not just because of the expected increase in women tourists but also thanks to women-run tourism businesses.

Restrictive rules remain

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia follows a strict form of Wahhabi Islam that bans the mixing of sexes at public events and places numerous curbs on women, including needing the permission of a male guardian to work or travel. These restrictions are enforced by religious police.
Women in Saudi Arabia still can't do these things

Saudi women will not have to get permission from their male guardians to take driving lessons, ambassador bin Salman told CNN.
However, rules that govern the guardianship of women will continue to restrict many aspects of everyday life for the country's female population.
Liesl Gerntholtz, executive director of the Women's Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, told CNN that while being allowed to drive was a "very important step," there was still a long way to go for Saudi women.
"This prohibition on driving is just one in a vast series of laws and policies which prevent women from doing many things," she said. "The guardianship rule stops women from making every decision in her life without the assistance of a male relative, even if that relative is her 7-year-old son."

Economic gains

The move to ease some restrictions on women has huge implications for the Saudi economy and women's ability to work. It is the latest in a series of changes that have been rippling through Saudi Arabia since the rise of 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The crown prince, appointed to the position by his father in June, is spearheading a plan to reform and transform the Saudi economy by 2030 and, in line with that goal, increase the number of women in the workforce.
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman viists the White House, March 14, 2017.
Marriam Mossalli, a Saudi entrepreneur who founded a Jeddah-based consultancy firm specializing in luxury marketing, Niche Arabia, told CNN that "with Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, things are happening quite quickly, at a 'millennial' speed," compared with the past.
The decision to let women drive will allow the debate to move on to other, more important issues, she said.
"We can go now beyond that and look at the real issues we have, more entrepreneurs, more women in the workforce, and this is why the ban was lifted, to facilitate putting women in the workforce," she said.
"A driver can be costly, around $400-800 a month, while an average entry level income for a woman working for example as a school teacher is $1,600... almost half of your salary is going to a driver. This is an economical decision and a human rights one."
Mossalli, a social media influencer whose company helped to organize the first public sports day for women in Saudi history, added: "Being conservative and contemporary are not mutually exclusive. You can be a modern conservative Saudi."

Conservative concerns

Throughout Wednesday, the leading hashtag in the Saudi Twittersphere was against women driving. Many social media users expressed concerns that allowing women to drive would violate the kingdom's strict rules on gender segregation.
Adnan el-Bar, 52, deputy director of Jeddah municipality council, told CNN the issues raised after the announcement ranged from infrastructure challenges to reservations about the possible social changes.
But, he said, the government has already laid out infrastructure changes that will be put in place, including setting up driving schools for women and special entities to issue driving licenses, and providing support for female drivers in case their car breaks down.
El-Bar said he didn't expect a huge increase in number of vehicles on the road once the decision is implemented. "I expect 50% of women will not let go of their drivers," he said, although this could change as more women join the job market as transportation costs drop.
"Time has come for a cultural change," he said. "Now, the debate has moved from the social realm to the family. It will be up for each family to decide."
Decisions would be based on many variables, from the cost of buying a new car to family traditions and religious beliefs, he said.
The social repercussions are unpredictable, El-Bar added. While one concern is a potential backlash from conservative society against female drivers, El-Bar said that even if such incidents occur, they would be isolated cases rejected by Saudi society.
"This is a sovereign decision by the government," he said. "This is not a victory for one side over the other; all decisions are for the country's interests ... to move the wheel of development forward."
The Saudi Senior Scholars Council, Saudi Arabia's highest religious body, "commended" the royal order allowing women to drive in a statement Wednesday, Saudi state news agency SPA reported, saying there was no religious reason to prevent women driving vehicles.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Saudi women to be allowed driving licenses

The day has come at last! Saudi women will be allowed to drive!!!!! The BBC is reporting that King Salman issued a decree to that end. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-41408195 
Congratulations to Saudi women, and Saudi Arabia for getting this done!!!

Nine years ago when this blog began, we hoped this day would come. It is a thrill to see it actually happen. Now comes the challenge of implementing the change. This blogger believes that Saudi society is well ready for it, and that women driving will create more balanced traffic and driving behavior on the roads. It is a win-win for women and all of Saudi society to enable women to contribute fully to their society by being able to move about more freely in it. Good luck to everyone involved in the effort to enact this change and make it a reality.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Saudi cleric suspended over 'quarter-brain' women drivers quip

Reuters reported on September 22, 2017 that the cleric who claimed women shouldn't be able to drive since they only have a 'quarter brain' has been suspended by Saudi authorities. We posted the news about his initial lecture that was videotaped and put out on  social media. A link to the latest story is here, and the story is pasted in below.

DUBAI (Reuters) - A Saudi cleric who said women should not drive because their brains shrink to a quarter the size of a man’s when they go shopping has been banned from preaching, state television said.
Saad al-Hijri was suspended from all religious activity after advising against allowing women to drive in a speech that contained comments “diminishing human value”, the broadcaster quoted a spokesman for the governor of Asir province as saying.
Ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving, despite ambitious government targets to increase their public role, especially in the workforce.
Women in the kingdom are also bound by law to wear long robes and a headscarf and require the consent of a male guardian for most legal actions.
In a video identifying him as the head of the religious edicts department in the southern province, Hijri asked what the traffic department would do it if it discovered a man with only half a brain.
“Would it give him a license or not? It would not. So how can it give it to a woman when she has only half?” he said.
“If she goes to the market she loses another half. What is left? A quarter...We demand the traffic department check because she is not suitable to drive and she has only a quarter.”
The comments sparked anger on social media, which is hugely popular in the kingdom. Twitter users shared the video, many criticising it and making jokes about his remarks, under the Arabic hashtag “Al-Hijri_women_quarter_brain”
Some users posted pictures of Saudi female scientists and academics in response and questioned Hijri’s own intellectual capacities.
His suspension, ordered by the provincial governor, was aimed at preventing the spread of views that spark controversy and do not serve the national interest, the provincial spokesman said, according to Ekhbariya TV’s official Twitter account.
Any others who used religious platforms to preach such views would also be banned.
The government’s modernizing reforms, backed by Saudi Arabia’s business class, have sparked tensions with influential clerics upon whose support the ruling family relies. Some clerics have millions of followers on social media.
Reporting by Sylvia Westall and Ahmed Tolba; editing by John Stonestreet

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Women can't drive because they 'have a quarter of a brain', Saudi sheikh says

Mariam Nabout writes on Stepfeed about a video of a Saudi cleric speaking about why women shouldn't be allowed to drive. Published on September 21, 2017. A link to the story is here  and the text is pasted below.

"Women don't deserve to drive because they only have a quarter of a brain"

According to the head of religious fatwas (edicts) in Saudi Arabia's Assir governorate, a woman shouldn't be allowed to drive because "she has a quarter of a brain."
You heard that right.
In a now-viral video that started making the rounds online late on Wednesday, Sheikh Saad Al Hajari is heard making the statement to a group of people during what appears to be a sermon.
"A woman isn't equal to a man when it comes to brain power and this is how she was created," Hajari said.
He then explained that because women have "half a brain," Saudi Arabia's Road and Traffic safety authority shouldn't allow them to drive.
"If a man had half a brain, would they issue him a driving license? They wouldn't."
Hajari's insults didn't stop here, he went on to explain that when women go shopping, they lose another half of their existing "half brain" and end up with only a quarter.
"Women don't deserve to drive because they only have a quarter of a brain," he reiterated.
Hajari's comments come at a time when the debate about women's right to drive continues to intensify.
Under the country's current law, there is no official prohibition on women driving, however, officials have yet to issue driving licenses to women. 

Outrage on social media

As soon as a video of Hajari's talk started to circulate online, it sparked outrage on Saudi Twitter.
Many wondered how a person who calls himself a religious cleric could make such statements, while others called on authorities to take immediate action against him. 

People were angered by the statements

"He's brainless"  

A few couldn't even watch the entire video

"I congratulate those who watched the video till the end for being able to handle it."  

"Don't they feel shame, talking about their own mothers like this!"

Many raised this issue

"The real problem is that a few of these clerics explain and interpret religion as they please and use our religion as an excuse to do the worst things." 

"A quarter of a brain contributes to the continuity of humanity, and a full brain contributes to its regression"

A few women shared right-on-point responses

"She lacks a brain, she lacks spirituality, she lacks an arm, leg, or even a head... all your bullshit won't work... women are going to drive sooner or later."  

Many called on the authorities to take action against Hajari

"This person is offending and denigrating Saudi women, authorities must take action against him and fire him from his position."  

Watch Hajari's full statement here: it's in Arabic only.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

New proposal calls for granting licences to men and women alike

This story appeared in the Gulf News dated September 13, 2017. A link to the story is here, and the story is pasted in below.

Supporters are hoping the recommendation will this time be endorsed by the 150-member Shura council
Gulf News

Manama: A recommendation to allow Saudi women to drive will be submitted to the Shura Council within one month, a member of the Saudi advisory body has said.
“A high number of Shura members are interested in the issue, and 20 members have expressed their open support to it,” the member who was not named said, quoted by Saudi daily Okaz on Monday.
Supporters are hoping the recommendation will this time be endorsed by the 150-member council.
In 2013, members Haya Al Maniie, Lateefa Al Shaalan and Muna Al Mushait submitted a motion to the Shura calling for allowing Saudi women to drive, within a religious framework.
However, the motion was turned down by the Council.
“The new proposal calls for amending Article 36 of the Traffic Law on the conditions to acquire a driving licence. Under the new proposal, a new paragraph will be introduced, stipulating that “the driving licence is a right for men and women alike when conditions are met, the Shura member said.
“The proposal was accompanied by a note explaining it, based on a comprehensive study showing the importance of establishing this requirement according to a scientific vision that took into consideration the social, economic, cultural, legal, security and other dimensions. The legal basis for the proposal is consistent with the system of state governance.”
There is legal text banning women from driving in Saudi Arabia and the issue is related mainly to social traditions.
The de facto ban has been at times challenged by women who drove on roads and highways, alone or with relatives, but they were accused of “stirring up public opinion” and made to sign commitments not to drive again. The women were held accountable for not holding valid driving licences.
The debate over allowing women to drive has been omnipresent on social media in Saudi Arabia with both camps using religious, social, cultural and economic arguments.
The presence of thousands of males to drive mainly Saudi women and girls has been regularly used by supporters of allowing women to drive to highlight negative social and economic problems.
The Saudi Shura Council comprises 30 women.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Saudi Woman Driving While Dressed Like A Man Questioned

The British Daily Mail reported on 8/24/17 the following, starting with the headline as follows:
A link to the story is here,  and text is below.

Saudi woman who dressed up like a man in traditional robes then filmed herself behind the wheel is grilled by police after posting protest video online

  • The unidentified woman uploaded the video to social media where it went viral
  • She donned male robes and a man's headdress before getting into a white SUV 
  • After complaints from viewers police tracked down the woman's location

A woman has been grilled by police in Saudi Arabia after getting behind the wheel of a car dressed as a man. The unidentified driver donned robes and a traditional headdress, usually worn by men, before climbing into a white SUV.  The footage was later posted on social media where it went viral receiving more than 20,000 views. There is a social taboo against woman driving in Saudi Arabia and many viewers called for the authorities to take action against those responsible for the footage.
Security services probed the clip and worked out it was shot at a 'recreational facility' in the town of Al Khafji, in the north-east of the country. Police questioned both the owner of the car and the man who runs the site over alleged anti-social behaviour. They have also questioned two women identified as Arabs although their nationalities have not been given. The case will focus on the nature of the suspects' relationship as Saudi Arabia does not allow the free mixing of unrelated men and women.
There is no law banning women from driving in Saudi Arabia but many believe it goes against the social traditions of the Middle Eastern country. Women who challenge the taboo have repeatedly been accused of 'stirring up public opinion'. The topic of whether women should be allowed to drive leads to regular rows on social media with both sides using social, religious and economic arguments to support their points.
 
To view the video, go to the Daily Mail article here and scroll down: Video link is in this article