May 18, 2010 Special Dispatch No. 2965

From Car to Donkey: One Saudi Woman's Campaign for the Right to Drive

May 18, 2010
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 2965

On March 31, 2010, 'Abdallah Nasser Al-Fawzan, a columnist for the Saudi daily Al-Watan, related the story of Moudhi, a headmistress from Riyadh who is carrying out a creative one-woman campaign for women's right to drive in Saudi Arabia.

Following are excerpts from an English translation of the article, published in the Saudi Gazette:[1]

Moudhi Drives a Car around Riyadh – With Her Foreign Driver Sitting in the Back

"Moudhi, a noted Riyadh secondary school headmistress, is continuing her five-year quest to persuade the relevant [authorities] that women have as much right to drive a car as men, furnishing them with the evidence piece by piece, showing that the benefits outweigh the perils. The persistent failure of her previous efforts, however, led her to turn to more practical methods, and so it was that she recently got behind the wheel of a car and drove off into the streets of the capital.

"When stopped by police Moudhi produced her international driving license, but the failure of officers to be persuaded by [this] document led to a lengthy exchange during which Moudhi showed them that their reasoning was more fragile than a spiderweb. Unmoved, the police told her that she was required to have a driver [present] to protect her and help her should she find herself in difficulties, such as her car breaking down.
'Okay...,'[2] Moudhi said. 'We'll see...'

"A few days later Moudhi got behind the wheel again, only this time, seated in the back of the car, was her foreign driver. When the police stopped her [...] the officers believed the man in the back to be her bodyguard, and were taken aback, along with the rest of the crowd, when Moudhi told them he was her driver, there to 'protect her and help her if the car broke down.'

"'Isn't that what you told me to do when you stopped me last time?' Moudhi said as the perplexed officers glanced at each other [...] "Okay, what's your reason this time?' she demanded to know. 'I have my international driver's license and a driver with me in the car. In fact, I'm a better driver than he is and I know the streets of the city better, and I speak Arabic [while] he can't. So why do you want me to sit in the back and let him drive instead?'

"'You're not allowed to drive' was their only response, and they ordered her to sit in the back. 'Okay,' Moudhi obeyed. 'Well, see…'"

Moudhi Exchanges Her Car for a Bike

"A few days later Moudhi took to the streets again. On a bicycle. As she made her way down busy Olayya Street, [generating] all sorts of commotion, she was inevitably espied by the police and a rather [amusing] pursuit ensued, able as she was to navigate between the [cars] and slip down side streets at a moment's notice. But in the end they caught up with her and told her to get off her bike. After having giving them a piece of her mind, Moudhi was finally obliged to abandon that means of transport as well. But, as is her wont, she immediately set about thinking of other ways."

Moudhi's Last Move – A Donkey

"And so it was that a few days [later] Moudhi bought herself a donkey, and as evening descended she mounted the beast and headed down the side streets from her house towards Olayya Street. By the time she hit the main road text messages had already spread around half the town informing everyone about the latest venture of the now famous Moudhi.

"As per usual, young males crowded around whistling, and the traffic piled up, almost [coming] to a standstill, causing a big commotion. The police were duly informed. As the police descended from their vehicles, Moudhi pulled over her donkey and drove it onto the pavement, where the following row ensued:

"Police Officer: 'Is everything alright, ma'am? You look like you've, how shall I put it, lost your mind.'

"Moudhi: 'Why's that?'

"PO: 'Well, what d'you think you're doing?'

"M: 'Have I done something wrong?'

"PO: 'Wrong?! Just take a look at yourself!'

"M: 'C'mon, out of my way! You've no right to stop me!'

"PO: 'I've every right! Can't you see what you've done?! Can't you see the [traffic] jams and fuss you've caused?!'

"M: 'How's that my fault?! Go and ask the mob that's been following me and whistling! I'm just using [a means of] transportation. You wouldn't let me use a car, or a bike, and now you want to stop me [from] riding a donkey?!'

"PO (Turning to his colleagues): 'What's the [matter] with this woman?! What are we going to do with her?'

"M: 'C'mon, out of my way! I'm going to ride a donkey every day, just like the female companions of the Prophet…or would you even deny them that right?!'

"PO: 'No, of course, not. But times have changed…'

"M: 'What's changed?! Things are supposed to change for the better!'

"PO: 'That's true, [they] change for the better… and now the streets are designed for cars, not donkeys.'

"M: 'But you wouldn't let me drive a car, or even ride a bike, why? I have the right to use transportation, don't I? Aren't I a human being?! C'mon now, get out of my way, or is there some law you know of stopping me riding a donkey?'

"PO: 'No, there's no law.'

"M: 'Do I need a donkey-riding license?'

"PO: 'No, no, you don't need a license.'

"M: 'Okay, then. Out of my way!'

"Quite a crowd formed around Moudhi and the police as they argued, some of them siding with her, others suggesting the officers should get her off [the animal] by force and put an end to the farce, but at some point news of the event apparently reached the ears of the powers-that-be, for the officers' radios began to [make sounds] and the police suddenly withdrew from the [area].

"And [when] Moudhi found the path before her unobstructed, she said: 'I'm going to get on my donkey every day, and demand that the authorities provide donkey parking at the shops – [for] this is my right as long as I'm not allowed to drive a car.' Moudhi drove her donkey off the pavement and back onto the road, amid whistles of disapproval and applause of support, and turned down the side street towards her home, wondering what she would do the next day."


[1] Saudi Gazette (Saudi Arabia),

The text has been lightly edited.

[2] Throughout this document, ellipsis inserted by MEMRI is indicated by three dots in brackets. Otherwise, the three-dot punctuation appears in the original.

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