Saudi Women Revive Driving Campaign: ‘Up To Women To Decide’

Activist Manal Alsharif's web video

Activists today reinvigorated a campaign to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia, the last country in the world that doesn’t allow a woman behind the wheel. Last summer, Saudi women stepped on the gas anyway, some sentenced to lashings for their defiance (the penalties were later reversed).

Manal Alsharif, who rose to fame by spearheading the initial campaign with an internet video of herself driving, called on women to take to the roads again next week. She told Reuters:

If women don’t take action, the authorities will not lift the ban. It is up to women to decide.

Alsharif’s fellow organizers, who cited the one year anniversary of the first protests last June, made an appeal to Saudi King Abdullah to support them and not enforce penalties for defying the ban. The activists wrote to the king:

In our campaign we do not seek to disturb the authorities or violate rules and regulations … All we want is for the women who need to go about their daily business and do not have a man to help her to be able to help herself.

The women’s aims faced religious opposition in the deeply conservative and repressive Saudi culture. (The kingdom won’t send women athletes to the Olympics.) A group of religious scholars who advise the government wrote last year in a report that if women are allowed to drive, there will be “no more virgins” left in Saudi Arabia.

The campaign, though, has found supporters in the U.S. Last summer, a group of Senators wrote the king asking him to lift the ban. And, after a campaign waged by the women activists and diplomatic evasion, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton praised the “brave” protesters, said they were right, and offered her support.