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Will Saudi Women Ever Drive? By: MEMRI
Memri.org | Friday, September 28, 2007


On September 23, 2007, Saudi Arabia's national holiday, the newly-founded League of Demanders of Women's Right to Drive Cars in Saudi Arabia will be presenting a petition to King 'Abdullah, following a signature-collecting campaign over the past weeks.

On September 20, 2007, the liberal Arab website Aafaq published an interview by website director Omran Salman with Saudi women's rights activist Wajeha Al-Huweidar, in which she talks about the ongoing public campaign of the League of Demanders of Women's Right to Drive Cars in Saudi Arabia. Al-Huweidar discusses how the campaign is progressing, the impact of foreign media coverage (the BBC, the Wall Street Journal, and others), and the plans for establishing an Association for the Protection and Defense of Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia.

The following are excerpts from the interview: [1]


The King Has Called This a Social, Not a Religious, Issue - We Want to Show that Society is Ready

"Aafaq: How have you progressed in collecting signatures for the petition for women driving cars, and are you satisfied with how it has gone so far?

"Al-Huweidar: In the first two days, the response was not at all satisfactory, for two reasons: First of all, the first statement was addressed just to women; and second, the media only picked up the story about the campaign late in the week…

"[Then] MEMRI published the news based on [the story] on your website, Aafaq. Since MEMRI is a website that is read by a large number of journalists, people in the media, and politicians all over the world, the news about us spread like fire in a hayfield. The majority of the large newswires and world newspapers started talking about our campaign and contacting us by phone or by e-mail. These included the BBC, the Wall Street Journal, the AP, the Washington Post, and others.

"Following this, the names began coming in from all regions of the kingdom and the world, by quantities. One day 150 names came in. The daily average is a bit more than 50. But, naturally, most of these names are from people who use e-mail, and so we decided, starting from today, September 20, to take the campaign to the streets…

"League members will be going to public buildings and markets to gather names in support of the campaign. We will try this [strategy] today and see what the benefits and drawbacks are. We hope that we will not be subjected to any violence on the part of the Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice.

"I would like to mention that on several occasions people in official positions - among them King 'Abdullah Bin 'Abd Al-'Aziz and His Highness Prince Nayef Bin 'Abd Al-Aziz - have said that women driving is a social issue, not a religious one. For that reason, we want to demonstrate to anyone who thinks otherwise that there is a large swathe of society that is completely ready for [women] to exercise this right, and that it only takes one stroke of the pen to issue the decision to allow women to drive cars - after which the entire world will see that Saudi women are completely ready to bear this responsibility."

We Want the King's Daughter Princess Adelah to Join Us

"[However,] we are not completely satisfied with the way the campaign is going. We would still like more names, and we still want [more] support from the local, Arab, and international media.

"We [also] would like influential women, and men, in positions of authority, to support us. We want ministers, and representatives, government officials, and religious authorities; we want men and women from the ruling family, such as Her Highness Princess Lolwah Al-Faisal, who once said to the famous journalist Thomas Friedman that if she were queen today, the first thing she would do would be to allow women to drive.

"We also want the king's daughter, Her Highness Princess Adelah, [2] to join us, as well as other princesses and businesswomen who are playing a role in the social movement and have influence in the government. We also hope that influential and famous women [around] the world will lend their names in support, as well as [human] rights groups - and especially women's rights groups, and admirable men like Nelson Mandela. We hope that he will hear about us and raise the banner of our campaign.

"Aafaq: How have you gotten much positive feedback from Saudi citizens regarding your demands?

"Al-Huweidar: "In truth, there has been great positive feedback from the people. For instance, so far we have only heard three voices opposed to the campaign…"

The League's E-Mail Has Been Blocked

"Aafaq: Have you met with any impediments or harassment up to now?

"Al-Huweidar: Yes. Every day we find that our e-mail has been encoded and blocked, and we are forced to call in friends who are competent in these matters to unblock it. Yesterday I had to spend seven and a half hours trying to access our e-mail...

"This is a clear indication that someone has declared war on us, and it seems that they are prepared to employ the dirtiest means to wreck what we are doing. This shows to what extent these people are weak and unable to confront us with arguments.

"Another thing that worried us was when Dr. Turki Al-Sudairi, head of the Human Rights Authority in Saudi Arabia, contacted Fawzia Al-Uyyouni, my partner in founding [the League]. He expressed his indignation and anger at the campaign - and he [is someone] whom one would expect to play a role in assisting and supporting it, by dint of his position.

"He said that the cause of his indignation was that the campaign would get in the way of a study that his institution was conducting to demonstrate that women driving is important because the [employment of] foreign drivers causes damage to families, and especially to children.

"Fawzia's answer to him was: What we are doing supports your study, and we add our voice to yours, and we will continue our campaign…

"Aafaq: How will you present the petition to the King? Will you be sending a delegation to Riyadh, or will you settle for sending it by mail?

"Al-Huweidar: Presenting the petition… is no problem at all, and there are several ways… As for a delegation, that is something we will decide on after [the petition is sent]. We in the League have a great desire to meet with the king and to speak with him about the importance of getting back this right that was stolen from us many years ago."

The Petition is Just the Beginning; We Have a Great Need for a Ministry of Women's Affairs

"Aafaq: Could it be said that this petition is the start of wider activity in the demand for women's rights in Saudi Arabia?

"Al-Huweidar: Yes, this is the start of a road that is long and full of thorny issues.

"This League [of Demanders of Women's Right to Drive Cars in Saudi Arabia] emerged from an association that is still in the process of formation, called The Association for the Protection and Defense of Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia. In the near future, we will be presenting a letter to the social affairs minister to request that the association be recognized as an NGO. The association will consist of a number of leagues, with each league pursuing a different issue or right.

"Among the issues that have been raised, and that are of the utmost importance, are: representation for women in shari'a courts; setting a [minimum] age for girls' marriages; allowing women to take care of their own affairs in government agencies and allowing them to enter government buildings; protecting women from domestic violence, such as physical or verbal violence, or keeping her from studies, work, or marriage, or forcing her to divorce…

"We need laws to protect women from these aggressions and violations of their rights as human beings. And there is also [the need to] prevent girls' circumcision…

"We truly have a great need for a Ministry of Women's Affairs to deal with women's rights, issues of motherhood and infancy, and women's health in rural areas… This is our ultimate goal…"



[1] www.aafaq.org, September 20, 2007; for the League's original appeal, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1710, "Saudi Feminist Wajeha Al-Huweidar Launches New Campaign: Let Us Drive Cars," September 11, 2007, http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP171007.

[2] For a recent interview with Princess Adelah, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1429, "Princess Adelah, Daughter of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia: 'Saudi Women Must Be Given the Opportunity to Participate in Social Development in All Areas,'" January 18, 2007, http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP142907.




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