Columns / Discourse / October 30, 2013

Women drivers defy Saudi government

Compared to every other revolutionary country in the Middle East, the Arabs of Saudi Arabia have done markedly less than the young rioters of countries such as Bahrain, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Libya. Although many fingers are pointed at the Saudi government for being an evil monarchy, suppressing countless freedoms and liberties, the civilians in the country do not seem to be victims of that type of monarchy. Or they just don’t care.

Last Saturday, 60 women, in a country of 21.83 million defied the government by driving. Compared to countries such as Egypt as Libya who had millions of people actively protesting in the streets, this driving “revolution” in Saudi Arabia is definitely a calmer rebellion than the world has recently experienced. Yet, for some reason, this sensation of Saudi women driving has hit Western countries by storm.

The campaigner for this rather small, but influential movement is Aziza Youssef, a Saudi professor. Her role is to contact and organize the women so that many can get behind the wheel, take pictures and record videos of this action and post them to social media sites so that the campaign may gain as much publicity as possible.

Right now, I can get up and get a snack from McDonalds, leaving my computer and taking my car to get a bite to eat. Men in Saudi Arabia can also do the same. However, women have been unable to drive in Saudi Arabia, inhibiting them from doing commonplace activities such as grabbing groceries, taking their children to school or grabbing a bite to eat at the local McDonalds. Instead, women are dependent on their husbands, brothers, fathers or drivers (most families in Saudi have a driver) to take them from place to place. Clerics have come up with unbelievably thoughtless reasons as to why women are unable to drive in Saudi Arabia by saying that driving will actually deteriorate the ovaries of a woman, ruin marriages, spread adultery and — my personal favorite —  give women the opportunity to spend an “excessive amount on beauty products”.

Essentially, these clerics do not have a rational answer for why women should not be allowed to drive; however, there has not been much retaliation against the decade’s long rule by women themselves! Only 60 women defied their government this weekend, whereas many young students who were faced with potentially violent suppression supported their countries’ movement toward the overthrow of a dictator. For example, these women avoid authorities at all cost, and above all are still loyal to King Abdullah.  “We don’t want to break any laws,” said Ms. Ajroush, who has been campaigning for the right to drive since 1990. “This is not a revolution, and it will not be turned into a revolution.”

Although the turnout rate was incredibly low, this resistance made headlines in many Western newspapers and periodicals. Why? Sixty people may only be a third of the people in an intro level science class at many universities across America; however, these 60 Saudi women resisted the centralized government and made front pages.

Constituents of Western countries, like the United States truly love distinct social issues, such as woman’s rights, and place them at the crux of their political agendas. This leaves Western news media sources to directly focus on what they believe their followers will like best. Women’s rights may be a smaller issue in the larger problem of the immense centralization of power in Saudi Arabia; however, at least the word is spreading, leading to a potential avenue for freedom for these women, starting with the basic right to drive.

Alaa Wardi — who is a social activist and singer in Saudi Arabia — created the best parody I have ever seen in my life. The parody, set to a Bob Marley hit, actively supports the females who protested the driving ban on Saturday. The song is called “No Woman. No Drive,” and is one of the few examples of active social media wonders that make the small women’s resistance an international problem.

Although the movement in Saudi Arabia may have been one of the smallest in the region, Western media sources may be able to enlarge and strengthen the movements, leading people toward the core issue of Saudi Arabia, which is its distinct centralization of power and disregard for human rights.

Hiba Ahmed

Tags:  Axixa Youssef drive Egypt government human rights libya No Woman No Drive rebellion Saudi Arabia suffrage women's rights

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