The carefully orchestrated plan for Saudi women to begin driving on 17 June has hit a road block with the arrest and detention of its organizer, Manal Al-Sherif on 22 May. It is now uncertain whether Saudi women will actually take to the roadways as planned. For someone not familiar with Saudi Arabia it is likely mind-reeling to learn that women, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, race or religion, are prohibited from driving. Saudi Arabia is the only country which legally prohibits women from driving.
Yet when King Abdullah was asked during one of his first television interviews when he became King in 2005, his response was “I believe strongly in the rights of women… I believe the day will come when women drive.” Even King Abdullah cited how women presently drive in rural areas and the desert.
Tariq Al-Meeana wrote an insightful article in Gulf News in which he explains why women do not drive in Saudi Arabia. He cites the reason women have not been able to drive in Saudi Arabia is due to the views and influence of Islamic scholars in the Kingdom who are opposed to allow women to drive. These scholars have influenced their followers that it would be wrong for women to drive. There seems to an underlying fear that if women were to drive in Saudi Arabia it would result in a degradation of the country and its culture.
Tariq’s suggestion is to begin introducing the concept of women driving in baby steps such as opening up driving schools for women and employing women in the traffic department of towns around the Kingdom.
In actuality the issue here is more than women driving. It is women wanting the natural rights of Muslim women around the world. There is no law or surah or hadith which prohibits Muslim women from driving.
In today’s society in Saudi Arabia it is more practical for a woman to be able to drive. If a poll were taken most women in the Kingdom do not have drivers and either rely on their male relatives or public transport such as taxis to convey them where they need to go. Women who do have drivers are being driven all around the Kingdom oftentimes alone with the unrelated male at the wheel. Why do the Islamic scholars accept that it is okay for a woman to be in a car with an unrelated driver yet are opposed for a woman to drive? I don’t understand or see any logic in this.
So now we wonder whether women will take to the roadways on 17 June. Would women from around the Kingdom who dare to go behind the wheel on 17 June be rounded up and jailed like Manal Al-Sherif? Would they be coerced to sign a statement agreeing that their actions were wrong and they had been led astray? Or will women with strength in numbers AND support of their families make themselves additional trailblazers in Saudi history for reform of women’s rights?