Saudi men work to put women behind wheels

November 2, 2013 | By | Reply More

Nov 02, – 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.

Saudi men work to put women behind wheelsOn Saturday, more than 60 women said they defied the ban, although they faced little action from police. In the run-up to the weekend 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.

“The stereotype is that there’s a problem in Arab culture and that we are against women and that the West is on the side of women. This is totally rejected,” said Abdullah Al Bilassi, a 23-year-old engineering student in Riyadh.

Though no laws ban women from driving in Saudi Arabia, the authorities do not issue them drivers’ licences. Many of the women who drove last weekend had licences from abroad, activists said.

Most of the men active in the campaign are in their 20s and 30s. They say their fathers and uncles often tell them frankly in male gatherings that it is not yet time to allow women to drive.

Alaa Wardi of Riyadh, who says he is not involved in the campaign, has produced an online video called “No Woman, No Drive,” using a Bob Marley song to mock comments by a prominent sheik who said driving can harm a woman’s ovaries. It has had more than eight million views since Saturday.

“The woman is a mother, daughter, wife and sister, so when the rights of a key member of society is affected, all the rights of society are affected,” he said. “They don’t want women driving because it opens the door to a flood of other demands that will lead to calls for political reforms,” he said. “It will evolve from a call for the rights of a segment of society to the rights of all society.”

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia, has gradually introduced reforms in Saudi Arabia, allowing women to sit on the national advisory council and permitting them to vote and run in municipal elections.

But the stringent male guardian system is still in place, requiring women to obtain permission from a male relative to travel, get married, enroll in higher education or undergo surgery in some cases. Rather than arrest the women, which could lead to an international outcry — as was the case in 2011 and 1990 — authorities have instead increased pressure on their male supporters. A handful of men have been questioned since Saturday, activists said, and other campaigners have had to sign pledges not to allow their female relatives to drive again. On Sunday, elementary school teacher Tariq Al Mubarak was detained by the Interior Ministry’s Criminal Investigation Department in Riyadh, although he has not been charged, said his lawyer, Abdel-Aziz Al Qassem.

Al Mubarak was targeted because of his role in the campaign, the lawyer said, adding that a phone line used by activists was registered under Al Mubarak’s name. He also had written columns in a major Arabic newspaper supportive of women’s rights to drive.

Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour Al Turki could not be reached for comment.

The lawyer told The Associated Press that he and Al Mubarak’s wife were able to see him for the first time on Wednesday.

“He is well and healthy,” Al Qassem said. “They just wanted to know what the point of the campaign is — if it is pressure on the government, which of course is not allowed, or a social campaign.”

The activists have been careful not to gather for fear of being accused of organising a protest. Instead, they work independently in several cities to edit and upload the videos and help manage the campaign’s website and Twitter and YouTube accounts.

One female activist said some campaigners have “started to really panic” after Al Mubarak was detained.

Two women said they were followed by undercover agents, while five others said they were contacted by the Interior Ministry and told not to drive.

 

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Category: Women Rights

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