Nation & World News

Saudi Women Get Behind Wheel For ‘Drive-In’ Protest

By Bill Chappell on October 26th, 2013

Women in Saudi Arabia are braving a ban on their ability to drive, taking to the streets Saturday as part of a push to allow women to attain driver’s licenses. Thousands of people have signed an online petition supporting the protest, which government and religious officials have spoken out against.

NPR’s Deborah Amos filed this report from Riyadh for our Newscast unit:

“The drive to end Saudi Arabia’s unique ban kicked off early on Saturday, when the first video was posted online of a woman driving in the capital.

“Activists have been officially warned of arrest and possible legal action. Some high-profile organizers got personal calls from the Ministry of Interior advising them to stay off the road. They were also shadowed by undercover cops in what appeared to be an intimidation campaign.

“However, the warnings have been mostly ignored. Support to lift the ban has come from surprising quarters — including male commentators in Saudi’s mainstream media.”

The drive-in is the third broad protest against the ban since the early 1990s. And it’s being discussed energetically on Twitter, where the hashtags #Saudi, #Oct26driving, and #Women2Drive are providing running commentary.

As of Saturday morning (in the U.S.), we’re not seeing any reports of broad arrests related to the protest. Police had reportedly intended to use the threat of traffic tickets, not arrests, to dissuade most women from driving.

A video posted to the Oct. 26 Driving YouTube account Saturday shows a woman driving while wearing a niqab (a veil that leaves only the eyes uncovered), talking with her passengers. We’ll note that even in the excitement of the moment, the driver smoothly flicks on her turn signal to change lanes and make a right turn.

Today’s protest also inspired a song: “No Woman No Drive.” The liberal rewrite of the Bob Marley hit was posted to YouTube Saturday by musician Alaa Wardi and comedians Hisham Fageeh and Fahad Albutairi.

As we reported last month, a Saudi cleric who had hoped to discourage female drivers said that sitting behind the wheel of a car could harm a woman’s ovaries. His comments met with derision, and inspired some of the lyrics to the “No Woman No Drive” parody song.

Organizers tell the AP that at least 60 women took part in Saturday’s protest. More than 20 women posted videos of themselves driving in Saudi Arabia today.

The AP spoke with May Al Sawyan, who says she was one of them.

“I am very happy and proud that there was no reaction against me,” Sawyan told the AP in a phone interview. “There were some cars that drove by. They were surprised, but it was just a glance. It is fine. … They are not used to seeing women driving here.”

Sawyan tells the news agency that she has a driver’s license — it’s just not a Saudi one. As Deborah Amos has reported, Saudi Arabia is the only country that doesn’t allow driver’s licenses to be issued to women.

Asked about today’s protest drive, Sawyan says she didn’t go far.

“I just took a small loop. I didn’t drive for a long way, but it was fine. I went to the grocery store,” she tells the AP.

The agency says Sawyan’s “husband and family waited at home and called her nervously when she arrived at the grocery store to check on her.”

In a recent report on the female drivers’ movement in Saudi Arabia, Deborah rode along with Aziza al-Yousef on a trip around Riyadh, with her male driver relegated to the back seat. Al-Yousef is a main organizer of the event.

“We are saying, ‘Just go ahead and drive now,’ ” she says. “I know women started driving. The messages are in the hundreds. We are counting the videotapes.”

In the weeks leading up to today’s event, a website created by the protest’s organizers was blocked in Saudi Arabia. And on Friday, the site was hacked.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

This entry was posted in News from NPR. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.

 

More Stories in News from NPR

Pope Francis opens the morning session of a two-week synod on family issues at the Vatican, on Saturday.

Vatican Bishops Scrap Opening To Gays, Divorced Members

Earlier this week an interim summary of the synod on family issues included conciliatory language on gays and on the taking of holy communion for divorced church members.


An artist's rendering of the flyby with Mars orbiters taking cover. Note that the image says "spacecraft not to scale."

Mars Probes Give Scientists Box Seats For Rare Comet Flyby

A “mountain-sized” comet known as Siding Spring will pass very close to the red planet, where orbiters from the U.S., Europe and India, hope to get close – but not too close — to the action.


Pro-democracy protesters set up new barricades after riot police retreated from a main road at Mong Kok shopping district in Hong Kong early Saturday.

Hong Kong Activists Clash With Police, Retake Protest Site

Pro-democracy protesters have replaced barricades in the congested Mong Kong district of the city hours after authorities dismantled the obstacles.


People stand on the island's south shore to feel the winds from approaching Hurricane Gonzalo, in Astwood Park, Bermuda on Friday. The storm has knocked out power to half of the residents of the British island territory.

Hurricane Gonzalo Hits Bermuda; Ana To Skirt Past Hawaii

In the British island territory, Gonzalo has wiped out power to roughly half of the island’s 70,000 inhabitants.


The Supreme Court early Saturday declined to block a Texas Voter ID law for the November election.

Supreme Court Lets Texas Enforce Voter ID Law For Nov. Election

With three justices dissenting, the high court’s ruling effectively blocks a lower federal court decision declaring the law restrictive and unconstitutional.


Thank you for your support

WUFT depends on the support of our community — people like you — to help us continue to provide quality programming to North Central Florida.
Become a Sustainer
I want to support FM 89.1/NPR
I want to support Florida's 5/PBS
Donate a Vehicle
Day Sponsorship Payments
Underwriting Payments