I received a Facebook notification 2 days ago saying an event I was due to attend had been cancelled. Looking into this, I found out that the Women 2 Drive protest on 17th June in Saudi Arabia had been cancelled. Digging a bit deeper, I found out that – seemingly as a condition of her release from prison – Manal al-Sharif had revoked her support for the campaign which is sad but understandable. Who knows what she has been subjected to whilst in prison. Some conservatives called for her to whipped in a women-only mall – what would they condone behind closed doors?
Manal’s detention was extended by ten days and just so happened that her five-year old son was hospitalised at the time fighting a severe infection. Could it be that her son’s illness was enough to bribe Manal into repenting? What mother wouldn’t, on hearing of her child being hospitalised, do anything to get to the child? On top of that, Manal is a divorcee and it is a well-documented fact that courts look more favourably on the other parent if one has an outstanding police case against them. She may have feared that her campaign for women’s right to drive may have cost her custody of her son.
Since her arrest last month, Manal’s heritage has been called into question with some rumours that she is not a Muslim, for example, as well as questions being raised regarding her nationality. As usual, propaganda. Her name has been dragged through the mud for standing up for something that should be a right.
There is no written law in Saudi that says women are not allowed to drive – this is a social restriction, not a legal one. Bedouin women are known to drive in remote areas – but it seems the government are only interested in women who can be seen by many. Women aren’t allowed to use buses in Saudi, they have no voting rights and have no property rights. They aren’t allowed to enter a bank without a man present and are not allowed to open a personal bank account without their husband’s permission. They are not even allowed to ride bicycles.
Manal is a highly intelligent woman. An IT expert, she was one of the first women in the world to be granted Certified Ethical Hacker status. She is an IT security consultant for the biggest oil company in Saudi and is allowed to drive on their private compound. In her privileged position – well-paid job, ability to drive on private land – she could have appreciated what she had and said nothing. Instead, she stood up for those less able than herself. She is an inspiration. But she has been pushed to the edge. In a statement at her release, Manal said she “hoped the Manal al-Sharif file has now been closed”.
The June 17th campaign is still planned to go ahead but now women are saying they will not protest, but will take to the streets in their cars. More and more videos are popping up online showing women driving in Saudi Arabia.
We may not be able to be there in person but let’s show our support by following the group on Facebook.