A Saudi cleric recently said, “God says women drivers are evil and deserve to die." Well, all righty, then. This aside, the 32-year-old woman who dared to drive in Saudi Arabia has been freed after over a week in jail. Her crime: succinctly put by Egyptian-American blogger Mona Eltahawy, "Driving while female." That, and Manal al-Sharif, an IT consultant at ARAMCO, had also posted a video of driving on YouTube and launched a Facebook campaign--all the things that would send a shudder through the Saudi government.
"Teach Me to Drive So I Can Protect Myself" had more than 12,000 fans before it was deleted. (Al Bawaba found a rival Facebook page with nearly 5,000 vowed to physically beat men and women who support Saudi women driving.) Al-Sharif argued that it is not cost-effective to ban women from the wheel--the costs of hiring a driver run up to $400 per month, unless a father, brother or husband takes the time to chauffeur women to work, school or the market.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving--not by law, but by senior clerics enforced by police. The late grand mufti of Saudi Arabia issued a fatwa in 1991 that proclaimed allowing women to drive would result in “social chaos."
"This is against religion and logic," al-Sharif had argued in the YouTube video. "A woman may be a PhD, but she is not allowed to drive!" Her social media campaign urged Saudi women to stage a mass driving protest on June.17. Accused of “violating public order,” Manal was arrested last week.
It's easy to read what the clerics say and assume that all Saudi men agree. However, as Saudi twitterer @omar9944 stated on May 22: "Unsung hero in Manal's saga, her bro! Accompanied her when she drove, had his wife babysit Manal's son. Saudi guys #TakeNote! #FreeManal." (Shout out to Global Voices, rounding up the twitters with the usual aplomb.)
Here is the video that started it all: