Manal al-Sharif was arrested on Saturday while driving in the Eastern Saudi city of Al-Khobar, a day after she posted a footage on YouTube showing her driving herself. She was released by traffic police but was again detained by criminal investigation police.
Manal’s lawyer Adnan al-Saleh said: “She has been charged with spurring women to drive, on the Internet, and inciting public opinion.” Mr Saleh said Manal had been ordered to remain in custody for five days while further investigations were carried out.
However, campaigns on Twitter and Facebook have been launched as well as a petition in Saudi, urging King Abdullah to intervene on behalf of Manal. Saudiwoman (Eman al-Nafjan) has Tweeted today that the petition already has over 400 signatures in Saudi – less than 24 hours after the petition began.
Manal has been ruffling feathers in Saudi since she began her campaign to encourage Saudi women to get behind the wheel on June 17th as a nationwide protest against the ban on women drivers. Activists claim this ban is based only on conservative traditions, not law. As well as not being allowed to drive, women are prohibited from travelling out of the country without authorisation from a male guardian. It is also required for them to be covered from head to toe when out in public so as to avoid attracting men.
Manal’s action came a few days after another Saudi woman, Najla al-Hariri,
drove in the western region of Jeddah over a few days, insisting on her right to
In November 1990, 47 women defied the ban by driving around Riyadh in 15 cars before being arrested. The women involved in that protest were meted a severe punishment, with authorities suspending many from their jobs and punishing their male guardians.
In some blogs, Manal and Najla al-Hariri are being compared to Rosa Parks (see http://muslimmatters.org/2011/05/22/the-rosa-parks-of-saudi-arabia-women-challenging-the-ban-by-driving/). They are doing their bit for revolution. If you have a Facebook page or Twitter account, please get on there and show your support for them. There are groups on Facebook dedicated to Women 2 Drive (Manal’s campaign for 17th June). Tweet #freemanal and #women2drive. This story is not receiving anywhere near as much coverage as it should.
I am a women who learnt to drive at nineteen and has never looked back, it affords me great freedom and independence. Why should Manal, and all of the other women in Saudi Arabia, be denied that right? Can you imagine having to wait for a man to give you a lift, just so you can nip out to the shops and back? And as for road trips with your girlfriends, forget it. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to be a woman in Saudi.
The next time you dash out of the door, grabbing your keys and phone on your way out, with your face in full view of everyone – think of Manal, and women like her. With our support, they could finally be allowed to drive themselves.