14 Saudi Women Arrested For 'Illegal Driving'

By @sunnypeter on

Saudi Arabian feminist defiance of an Islamic ban against driving seems to have gone off relatively peacefully Saturday with more than 60 women across the country claiming to have driven their cars. Al-Madina newspaper Sunday reported that authorities arrested 14 women for driving in Riyadh and the cities of Jeddah and Mecca and in the Eastern Province.

Although the Saudian law does not prohibit women from driving, they are not issued licenses by the authorities. Those who drove on protest day Saturday were women who had driver's licences from abroad.

Activists believed that driving should be a woman's choice. Their struggle is against the Saudi Arabia's hard-line interpretation of Islam known as Wahabbism.

About 13 videos received and 50 phone messages from women claiming to have driven Saturday. There, however, was no way to verify the message, accordibg to the activists.

May Al Sawyan, one of the activists, 32, mother of two and economic researcher, was reported to have driven from her home in Riyadh to the grocery store and back, prepared to be jailed, if caught by authorities.

''I just took a small loop," she said. "I didn't drive for a long way, but it was fine,'' she added.

Reports said Al Sawyan drove with a local female television reporter in the car without male relatives, which is a requirement under the country's strict norms.

''I am very happy and proud that there was no reaction against me," she said.

With hardline clerics noting women driving will lead to "licentiousness," and a prominent cleric announcing that driving harms a woman's ovaries; the kingdom's authorities had issued mixed warning, asking females not to drive. They, however, seemed cautions not to push too hard. Media reports said there was no particular effort made by security officials to arrest or fine female drivers.

With police turning a blind eye towards women who drove, people were left confused.

Saudi police announcement that those who "disturb public peace" would be dealt with forcefully was seen by the conservatives as a warning directed at women drivers. But reformers interpreted this as a direction to anyone who attacked women drivers.

''This is part of the politics," Youssef, an activist and professor, was quoted as saying.

"My analysis is that the government is doing all this to protect ladies from the harassers.''

The women's protest driving campaign held Saturday was similar to the 1990, the first major driving protest by Saudi women, where 50 women were arrested, while their passports confiscated and fired from their jobs.