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memri
January 18, 2017 No.
6747

Saudi Demands For Women To Be Allowed To Drive Continue; Columnist: This Ban Is Aimed At Perpetuating Men's Control Of Women

As the years-long public debate over the Saudi ban on women driving continues, many in the kingdom, including Saudi officials and columnists in Saudi daily newspapers, are calling for it to be rescinded. This report will review some of these calls:

 

Shura Council Member: The Ban Tarnishes Saudi Arabia's Global Image

In a speech delivered in late November 2016 at a Shura Council session, council member Latifa Al-Sha'alan addressed the issue of women driving in Saudi Arabia, and attacked those who seek to postpone dealing with this issue on the grounds that there are pressing domestic and foreign challenges facing the kingdom. She commented that Saudi Arabia has faced many challenges over the past 50 years, so according to this twisted logic, all growth, development, and reforms should have ground to a halt. Addressing the argument that women must not be allowed to drive since this would make them easy prey for men, she condemned this demonization of the Saudi man, which portrays him as a barbarian who waits for his chance to pounce on women, arguing that this stereotype is so widespread that it has become a mark of shame for every Saudi men everywhere.

Al-Sha'alan also rejected another common claim, that Saudi society is not yet ready for women to drive, stressing that reality indicates otherwise, as Saudi women are members of the Shura council and run in local elections. She added: "It is known that justice is [one] of the grand goals of Islam. Islam recognized the equality between women and men [since] the dawn of creation." She added that Saudi Arabia, which is a signatory to international human rights treaties, harms its own status and image by insisting on preventing women from driving, which is apparent in the discourse on this topic in international forums and Western media.[1]


Booklet opposing women driving distributed by the religious police in Jeddah (Makkah, Saudi Arabia, December 28, 2016)

Businessman Al-Walid Bin Talal: It's Time For Women To Be Allowed To Drive

Saudi businessman Al-Walid bin Talal recently launched a media campaign supporting women driving, which gained considerable traction online. On November 29, 2016 bin Talal tweeted: "Stop the debate. It's time for women to drive."[2] On his website, he explained that women driving is important for economic, development, and social reasons, due to the increasing number of working women in the kingdom who need a safe means of getting to work every day, and also due to the fact that many women are the heads of their households, and allowing them to drive would help them manage their family affairs.[3]


Walid bin Talal's tweet

Saudi Columnist: No Religious Justification To Ban Women From Driving; The Car Is The Modern Form Of The Pack Animals Ridden By Female Companions Of The Prophet

Calls to lift the ban on women driving also frequently appear in the Saudi press.[4] For example, on November 5, 2016, Makkah columnist Sahar Abu Shaheen published an article harshly criticizing the opponents of women driving and attacking their justifications, such as the fear that they would be raped or seduced by men, leading to unwanted pregnancies. According to her, these arguments against women driving are meant to perpetuate male dominance over them.

She wrote: "The Saudi woman is the only one in the universe that is still battling for her right to drive a car or even a tuk tuk.[5] She has had enough of the humiliation of asking for favors from her tyrannical husband or inconsiderate brother, and enough of being exploited by [public transportation] drivers and their constant raising of [fare] prices...


Cartoon in Saudi daily Al-Riyadh, March 28, 2016

"I do not know how we mean to expand the employment of women in the private sector when they cannot even drive to a workplace that is an hour or more away from their homes...

"The opponents of women driving believe that permitting it means that a young woman's first drive will be to meet her boyfriend. They picture Saudi streets filled to the brim with seductive women drivers chased by a herd of raging bulls, resulting in an explosion of waifs that sanitation workers will not be able to clean up.

"[The opponents] exaggerate in describing hair-raising scenarios in which new cars suddenly break down, thus exposing the women drivers to roadside rapes. Those who possess this sick imagination are surely the descendants of those who fought anything new, placed imaginary obstacles to every natural development, and called to shutter schools for girls and ban telephones and [later] cellphones.

"These fears have neither religious nor logical justification. They stem from [men's] fear of losing control over their wives, and losing the false sense of self-satisfaction and self-importance that [this control] provides them.

"The funny thing is that once these people are confronted with the fact that there is no [religious] ban on [women] driving, since the car is [merely] the modern form of the pack animals ridden by the female companions of the Prophet [Muhammad], they return to their broken record regarding [Saudi] society's unwillingness and uniqueness, and the fact that there are more important issues [to worry about] than to place women in the driver's seat, and deliberately ignore [the plight of] women who were abandoned and have no one to meet their urgent needs.

"It seems that they believe that [allowing women] to drive will be done forcefully and that women will be dragged from their bedrooms and unwillingly forced to attend driving school. Keep your women under your wing if you want, [but] also deal with those afflicted by the disease of 'shoving their noses' into others' business and 'taking guardianship' over others.

"The issue of Saudi [women] driving has become a knife in the belly of Saudi Arabia, and a weapon in the hands of the country's enemies, which they use to harm its unity and sow division between its sectors. This has become a comical topic that makes us the laughingstock of Western media... and we must deal with it as quickly as possible.

"Why don't we [replicate] the successful experiment with women driving in [the city of] Al-Dhahran and the KAUST [King Abdullah University of Science and Technology] campus?[6] The Saudi woman is not as fragile and weak as she is portrayed by the opponents of [women] driving. She merely needs independence, and [for people] to have faith in her ambition spirit and proud soul, so as to enable [women] to truly [fulfill their role] as half of society, and not just as a statistic that no one pays attention to."[7]

 

 

Endnotes:

 

[1] 'Okaz (Saudi Arabia), November 29, 2016.

[2] Twitter.com/Alwaleed_Talal, November 29, 2016

[3] Alwaleed.com.sa, November 29, 2016.

[4] See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1029, Saudi Activists Renew Campaign For Women's Driving, October 23, 2013; and Special Dispatch No. 6643, Saudi Journalist: Saudi Government Must Immediately Lift Ban On Women Driving, October 13, 2016.

[5] Also called an Auto Rickshaw – a motorized three-wheeled vehicle common in the far east.

[6] Women are allowed to drive in Aramco's gated compound in Al-Dhahran, inhabited mostly by Americans employees of the Saudi oil giant, and also on the campus of KAUST, the kingdom's only co-ed university. See Al-Sharq (Saudi Arabia), November 11, 2011.

[7] Makkah (Saudi Arabia), November 5, 2016.