Saudi Arabia forces Women to Cancel Driving Protest, Asserts Authoritarianism in Region

A key group of Saudi feminists have called off their planned protests for Saturday against Saudi Arabia’s bizarre ban on women driving. (Some individuals may go ahead). They did so in response to dire threats from the Saudi Interior Ministry (i.e. secret police) of condign punishment against women who got behind the wheel today, and against those who gathered in public for protests. One woman protester in 2011 was arrested and sentence to ten lashes (yes). I am a worldly person who has visited countries in which, all together, perhaps a majority of the world’s population lives, and I am not quick to condemn other cultures. But really, whipping women with whips for daring to drive an automobile, is barbaric.

It is about the most pitiful thing one can imagine– a state that disallows protest altogether as a means of enforcing a brutal patriarchal order that deprives women of the basic right of mobility. Inability to drive limits women’s ability to pursue not just their careers (Saudi women have high rates of literacy and education) but even just hobbies. Wealthy women have chauffeurs, but contrary to stereotypes not all Saudi families are rich or can afford to hire drivers. Supportive Saudi husbands sometimes have to spend a lot of their time driving family members around.

AFP reports:

AFP points to one of the motivations for the Saudi regime’s resistance to changing their stupid law about women driving– that conservatives fear that if they give way on this issue, it will open the sluice gates to further demands for reform in the kingdom. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy with no constitution and no elected legislature, ruling over 22 million citizens and 7 million guest workers. The princes of Al Saud do not want middle class intellectuals telling them how to run things and do not want minorities such as the Shiites making demands for legal equality. Women have to be subjected in order to make the point that everyone else will be subjected, as well. And, the Saudi elite is attempting to spread authoritarianism in the region, pushing back against demands for democracy and human rights by e.g. Egyptian youth. A Saudi official told a friend of mine after the 2011 Egyptian revolution that Saudis still remember when Egyptian Khedive Muhammad Ali invaded the kingdom in the 19th century and they were determined to prevent any repeat of an Egyptian invasion (implying that the threat is now from Egyptian ideas about democracy and human rights).

Women activists said that instead of another one-day protest today, they would pursue an open-ended campaign for the right to drive.

Much more may be riding on their success than just one right of one group under Saudi rule.

Posted in Saudi Arabia | 10 Responses | Print |

10 Responses

  1. Does Saudi Arabia have ‘citizens’? I was under the impression that as a Kingdom, it had only ‘subjects’. Can anyone clarify?

    • my impression,
      the 10,000 or so men of the al-Saud have functional de facto “citizenship,” through the tribal consultative process.

  2. When you suppressing 50% of your citizens, you are making your country 50% inefficient. The Saudi Kingdom is the last throwback reactionary monarch we need to get rid of. Although religion and equal right are incompatible(MY OPINION), NOT ALLOWING WOMAN TO DRIVE IS GONE TOO FAR.

  3. I live for the day when a journalist asks Obama when he plans to invade Saudi Arabia [Bahrain, etc.] to bring freedom and democracy to its citizens.

  4. David: Subject is valid though too soft; slave might be the term we can understand.
    Osman: ¿Efficient for whom? Total control is the desired end.

    Stop The Wars!

  5. It’s not only about women banned from driving and whipping those who do not obey. It’s a society in which it seems to be accepted that “unprotected” women (incapacitated citizens) can and should be molested if not raped.

  6. -“[I]n Saudi Arabia the law actually enshrines the principle that the male knows better than the female. A woman may not enroll in university, open a bank account, get a job, or travel outside the country without the written permission of a mahram (guardian) who must be a male blood relative—her father, grandfather, brother, husband, or, in the case of a widow or separated woman, her adult son.” “Since 9/11 women have the right to work in the private sector, but like any other activity outside the home, they can do it only with the written permission of their…male guardian.”
    link to

  7. Having lived in Dammam, Saudi Arabia for five years in the early seventies, I can see that social progress is fitful, if that. Since my sojurn, mixed bathing has been banned at the Aramco camp which also boasts the only public cinema in the Eastern Province.

    When there, my wife was not allowed to drive, nor to use the Aramco worker’s bus. She had done until the Committee for the Condemnation of Vice and the Commendation of Virtue so ruled. It was a mild problem, avoiding isolation and getting her safely to the western facilities…

    But Arabia is a complex society. Public morality is policed by the muttaween. The ruling family recognize their debt to their Salafi support which is locally called Wahabbism, but many educated, sophisticated Arabs pay lip service to the impositions and live private, decent lives according to their own lights.

    Although it was unacceptable for women to work in shops, for example, there were many situations in conservative Dammam where women were the brains of a retail enterprise and their husbands merely helpers. In the Hejaz, social mores were more “advanced.”

    Driving is impractical if you are wearing a veil. Women do drive in Dubai and the UAE, but wear burka instead, affording better vision.

    Big social change may happen, quite suddenly, in time, but one can see the conservative strategy in the economic alliance the Saudis are promoting with China. More comfortable for them to be associated with a authoritarian society than with faulty democracy.

    It is a complicated issue. Easy to criticize from outside, but with the society developed from nomadic, tribal alliances from only seventy years ago, the issue is how to affect change without throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

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