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November 13, 2007 Special Dispatch No. 1757

New Arab-English Reform Website on "The Arab Rosa Parks"

November 13, 2007
Special Dispatch No. 1757

On November 1, 2007, Aafaq,[1] a leading Arabic reform website, launched its English page. The following is one of the early articles in English from the website.

Saudi Activist Wajeha Al-Huwaidar – The Arab Rosa Parks

"Saudi activist Wajeha Al-Huwaidar has become one of the best known activists for human and civil rights – specifically for women’s rights – in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world.

"Ms. Al-Huwaidar has been dubbed 'The Arab Rosa Parks,' after the American civil rights activist who, in turn, was called 'the mother of the modern-day civil rights movement.' Rosa Parks gained fame just over 50 years ago, when she refused to give up her seat on a public bus when the driver ordered her to give it to a white passenger. In doing so, Ms. Parks helped spark the organized campaign against racial discrimination.

"The comparison between Ms. Parks and Ms. Al-Huwaidar is apt – because the Saudi activist is focusing on and campaigning against legal discrimination against women.

"Wajeha Al-Huwaidar has been an activist and writer (in both Arabic and English) for a number of years. In 2003, the Saudi Interior Ministry prohibited the Saudi press from publishing her articles, because of her writings on human rights, and especially her attacks on discrimination against women in Saudi Arabia and across the Arab world. But since the rise of the Internet, and the emergence of websites like Aafaq, governments have found it much more difficult to suppress writers' access to media.

"Ms. Al-Huwaidar has also put her body on the line: On August 4, 2006, the first anniversary of King Abdullah’s accession to the throne, she demonstrated on the causeway linking Saudi Arabia to Bahrain, carrying a sign demanding rights for women. For her actions, she was arrested and interrogated by Saudi security forces – which released her in exchange for her pledge to cease writing articles, holding and organizing protests, and communicating with foreign organizations and media.

"The Campaign Against the Saudi Ban on Women Driving Struck a Nerve in the Western World"

"Recently, Ms. Al-Huwaidar has become more widely known outside Saudi Arabia, for leading the movement to abolish the Saudi ban on women driving. She is a major organizer of the League of Demanders of Women’s Right to Drive Cars, which launched a signature collection drive for a petition that was presented to King Abdullah on Saudi National Day on September 23, 2007. Following an Aafaq report on this campaign, the story was picked up by international news media and major newspapers – the Associated Press, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the BBC, and dozens of others.

"The campaign against the Saudi ban on women driving struck a nerve in the Western world, where most had never heard of such a ban. The Wall Street Journal brought Ms. Al-Huwaidar even more attention, with an article in its October 14 online edition in which Journal editors proposed nominees for the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize. The article commended her and her League co-founder for 'waging a modest struggle with grand ambitions to secure basic rights for women in that Muslim country.'

"The Saudi ban on women driving is supported by the leading officials of Wahhabi Islam, including Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Al Al-Sheikh, who declared in a fatwa that 'a woman driving a car is in contradiction to the behavior of true Islam.'

"Times are Changing, and Saudis are Increasingly Chafing Under Old Prohibitions"

"The Wahhabi school of Islam – in most respects the strictest and most conservative of Islam's religious and legal trends – has deep roots in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi royal family (Al Sa’ud) has been closely allied with the founding family of Wahhabism (Al Aal-Sheikh) for over two centuries, when the first Saudi rulers came to power in eastern Arabia more than 100 years before the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. However, times are changing, and Saudis are increasingly chafing under old prohibitions. Even King Abdullah is reported to have expressed the view that women driving is a social issue, not a religious one.

"We are certain to hear more from Ms. Al-Huwaidar – the Arab Rosa Parks – on Aafaq and elsewhere. She is working to advance a nascent organization with goals that reach beyond the campaign for driving rights: The Association for the Protection and Defense of Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia."

Endnote:

[1] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1722, "Saudi Feminist Wajeha Al-Huweidar: The Campaign for Women's Right to Drive in Saudi Arabia Is Just the Beginning," September 21, 2007, Saudi Feminist Wajeha Al-Huweidar: The Campaign for Women's Right to Drive Saudi Arabia Is Just the Beginning; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1710, "Saudi Feminist Wajeha Al-Huwaidar Launches New Campaign: Let Us Drive Cars," September 11, 2007, Saudi Feminist Wajeha Al-Huwaidar Launches New Campaign: Let Us Drive Cars; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1646, "Egyptian Intellectual, Civil Rights Activist Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim: I Supported Hamas's Right to Run For Election – But They Are Behaving Barbarically," July 6, 2007, Egyptian Intellectual, Civil Rights Activist Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim: I Supported Hamas's Right to Run For Election – But They Are Behaving Barbarically; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1623, "Egyptian Intellectual Tarek Heggy: ‘If I Were a Shi'ite from Saudi Arabia…,'" June 15, 2007, Egyptian Intellectual Tarek Heggy: "If I Were a Shi'ite from Saudi Arabia…"; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1597, "'This Is Not a Western Conspiracy': Saudi Reformist Wajeha Al-Huwaidar Publishes Sequel to Her Satirical Poem 'When,'" May 24, 2007, "This Is Not a Western Conspiracy": Saudi Reformist Wajeha Al-Huwaidar Publishes Sequel to Her Satirical Poem "When"; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1556, "To the Arab Jews: Happy Passover!" April 24, 2007, To the Arab Jews: Happy Passover!; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1488, "Iraqi Columnist: What Is Happening in Iraq Will End in the Defeat of Terrorism and in the Region's Recovery From Its Ills," March 6, 2007, Iraqi Columnist: What Is Happening in Iraq Will End in the Defeat of Terrorism and in the Region's Recovery From Its Ills; MEMRI Special Dispatch 1484, "Arab Reformist Website: 'Britain is the Largest Exporter of Terrorism in the Non-Muslim World,'" March 2, 2007, Arab Reformist Website: ‘Britain is the Largest Exporter of Terrorism in the Non-Muslim World’; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1479, "In a Satirical Poem, Saudi Author Laments Conditions in the Arab World," February 28, 2007, In a Satirical Poem, Saudi Author Laments Conditions in the Arab World; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1467, "Saudi Petition Calling for Reforms Issued by Islamists who Support Terrorism," February 16, 2007, Saudi Petition Calling for Reforms Issued by Islamists who Support Terrorism; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1387, "Editor of Arabic Reformist Website AAFAQ Criticizes Recommendations of the Iraq Study Group," December 12, 2006, Editor of Arabic Reformist Website AAFAQ Criticizes Recommendations of the Iraq Study Group; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1202, "New Arabic Reformist Website: 'The Arab World Doesn't Have to Choose Between Islamists and Dictators; There is a Third Way – the Way of Reform, Liberalism, and Democracy,'" July 12, 2006, New Arabic Reformist Website: 'The Arab World Doesn't Have to Choose Between Islamists and Dictators; There is a Third Way – the Way of Reform, Liberalism, and Democracy'.

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