More than 60 women across Saudi Arabia claimed they drove cars Saturday in defiance of a ban keeping them from getting behind the wheel, facing little protest by police in their push for easing restrictions on women in the kingdom.
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The campaign’s message is that driving should be a woman’s choice. The struggle is rooted in the kingdom’s hard-line interpretation of Islam known as Wahabbism, with critics warning that women driving could unravel the very fabric of Saudi society.
Though no laws ban women from driving in Saudi Arabia, authorities do not issue them licenses. Women who drove on Saturday had driver’s licenses from abroad, activists said.
Activist Aziza Youssef, a professor at King Saud University, and another activist said protest organizers received 13 videos and about 50 phone messages from women showing or claiming they had driven. She said they have no way to verify the messages.
May Al Sawyan, a 32-year-old mother of two and an economic researcher, told The Associated Press that she drove from her home in Riyadh to the grocery store and back. Activists uploaded a four-minute video of her driving to the campaign’s YouTube account.
Al Sawyan said she was prepared to be jailed if caught by authorities. She said she was far enough from a police car that she was not spotted.
“I just took a small loop,” she said. “I didn’t drive for a long way, but it was fine.”
Al Sawyan’s husband and family waited at home and called her nervously when she arrived at the store to check on her, she said. She drove with a local female television reporter in the car. They were both without male relatives in the vehicle, which in itself defies the country’s strict norms requiring women to have a male relative in public.
“I am very happy and proud that there was no reaction against me,” Al Sawyan said.
It is not clear if police turned a blind eye to women driving or simply did not see the scattered, quick spins around towns. An AP journalist in Riyadh said there were no roadblocks or checkpoints set up to watch for female drivers. He saw only a few law enforcement vehicles on the road.
A security official said authorities did not arrest or fine any female drivers yesterday. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.