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October 26, 2013 cbc.ca
Authorities in Saudi Arabia have stepped up a warning to women not to defy a ban on female drivers by taking part in a mass driving protest on Saturday.
The country’s interior minister has toughened the Saudi government line on the women drivers’ campaign, saying anyone breaking the law is likely to face unspecified punishment.
Badawi Al Rasheed, a Saudi academic and expert on women’s rights doesn’t think many women will flout the ban, because of worries of their safety.
“We have heard there are counter campaigns to actually drive the women away from the streets, either by harming them or by crashing their cars,” she said.
However, a Saudi woman said she got behind the wheel Saturday and drove to the grocery store without being stopped or harassed by police.
Despite warnings by police and ultraconservatives in the kingdom against defying the ban, at least 60 women have successfully driven.
Saudi professor and campaigner Aziza Youssef said organizers had received 13 videos and another 50 phone messages from women showing or claiming they had driven. She said they have no way to verify the messages.
Though no specific Saudi law bans women from driving, women are not issued licences.
Powerful clerics who hold far-reaching influence over the kingdom’s ruling monarchy enforce the ban. Clerics warn that “licentiousness” will spread if women drive.
Activist suggests she was followed
Women’s rights advocate Madeha Al Ajroush drove in similar campaigns in 1990 and 2011, and was going to drive again on Saturday, but decided against it.
She explained why in an interview with CBC News.
“At 8:00 in the morning, I called my girlfriend to meet her at the coffee shop, so we could go to a safe place and drive. To our surprise, we found four cars that are white, small [with] tinted [windows] and we didn’t feel so comfortable about meeting behind the wheel, so we went around town trying to lose them and we were not successful.
“Finally, we went to a mall in Riyadh, waited and drank coffee, and figured out what to do.
“I figured what I would do is go to the toy shop and buy a small yellow car and then go to them and say, ‘Hello, today is October 26th and I want to give this to you as a gift.'”
“So I did that, and they looked at me puzzled, surprised, and they grabbed the car from me and I just walked away.”
“As we speak now there is another white car that is also tinted outside my door and I don’t know why they’re there. I haven’t committed a crime,” she said.
Online petition has 16,000 signatures
In the run up to the campaign, police warned that anyone disturbing public order would be dealt with forcefully.
Ultraconservative clerics also protested earlier in the week against the online petition campaign, which was launched in late September and says it has more than 16,000 signatures.
The account’s website, oct26driving.org, and official English language YouTube account were hacked on Friday, according to activists.
Categories: Saudi Arabia