Saudi woman to stand trial for driving

2011-09-27 14:03

Cairo - A Saudi activist will stand trial for defying the kingdom's ban on female drivers, a lawyer and rights advocate said, revealing clear limits on how far the conservative Muslim land is willing to go to grant women greater rights.

Just a day earlier, King Abdullah, who is regarded as a reformer by Saudi standards, decreed that women would be allowed for the first time to vote and run as candidates in elections for municipal councils starting in 2015. He also promised to appoint women after two years to the Shura Council, the currently all-male consultative body with no legislative powers.

Activists in Saudi Arabia and abroad welcomed the changes as a step in the right direction, while urging the kingdom to end all discrimination against women. Some also pointed to the case against Najalaa Harriri as evidence of how far the kingdom still has to go on the path of reforms.

"Saudi Arabia is moving far too slowly," said Amnesty International's deputy Middle East director, Philip Luther. "Ultimately, it is no great achievement to be one of the last countries in the world to grant women the vote."

Harriri was among the dozens of Saudi women to challenge the country's longtime ban on driving in a campaign that began in June. In a nod to the power of social media, the campaigners posted video of themselves behind the wheel on the web, drawing international attention at a time of great tumult across the Arab world.

She was summoned for questioning on Sunday by the prosecutor general in the western port city of Jeddah, according to attorney Waleed Aboul Khair. She will stand trial in a month, joining several other women currently on trial for driving.

Activists say the trials reveal a gap between the image the kingdom wants to show to the outside world and the reality on the ground in the ultraconservative nation.

High profile case

"I believe that Saudi Arabia has always had two kinds of rhetoric, one for outside consumption to improve the image of the kingdom and a more restrictive one that accommodates the religious establishment inside," Aboul Khair said.

In Saudi Arabia, no woman can travel, work, marry, get divorced, gain admittance to a public hospital or live independently without permission from a "mahram," or male guardian. Men can beat women who don't obey them and fathers or brothers have the right to prevent their female relatives from getting married if they don't approve of her suitor.

"Right now, women are harassed and they get dragged to courts and nothing has changed in this respect," said Aboul Khair, who himself has been referred to court after challenging the social restrictions women face as well as other issues. His trial has yet to start.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women - both Saudi and foreign - from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.

In a high-profile case that triggered the June internet campaign, Manal al-Sherif was detained for more than 10 days after appearing in a video clip driving her car and calling for a mass driving protest on June 17. Al-Sherif, an IT expert, was released after signing a pledge not to drive again or speak to reporters.

Since then, Harriri and dozens of other Saudi women have followed her lead. Harriri also helped start a similar campaign this month called "My Right, My Dignity" that calls for an end to all forms of discrimination against women.

Women’s freedom

In most cases, the women are stopped by police and held until a male guardian is summoned and the women sign a pledge not to drive again. Some are referred to court.

Harriri refused to sign, according to Samar Badawi, another female activist who was present at the police station with her three weeks ago.

"Najalaa is not the only one. I've received phone calls from many women who get detained and referred to trial," Badawi said. "At court, you have one of two options: either the judge issues a sentence or closes the case."

The ban is rooted in religious edicts and Saudi Arabia's conservative traditional culture, which views limitations on women's freedom of movement as a necessity to prevent sins. However, there is no written law banning women from driving. As a result, there is no set punishment for the offense.

Also, activists like Badawi argue this means there is no legal basis for brining the women to trial.

She notes that she has been driving every two or three days in Jeddah since June and without a problem. The port city is notably more liberal than the capital, Riyadh, and other parts of the country.

"We are marginalised in very basic rights," said Badawi, who was sentenced herself to six months in prison for disobeying her father. "They think that by giving us some political rights, we will be pleased and shut up."

  • pragmatism - 2011-09-27 14:11

    Damn... I love the free South Africa.

      sganja - 2011-09-27 14:28

      Me too.

      toleranne - 2011-09-27 17:52

      @Kaapie ... so you agree that any woman has the right to choose NOT to wear the niqab, or any garment. Prescribing clothing (not to mention ascribing moral values to pieces of cloth) and discriminatory treatment of individuals based on outdated and arbitrarily-determined concepts, are way out of line. Part of SA's miracle was that by negotiated agreement, the rule of law transcended arbitrary differences such as gender and colour (this is the ideal - the practice is more difficult, as we see every day).

  • cat - 2011-09-27 14:31

    Why is it that Muslims all over the world, including South Africa, are quick to pick up the struggle of the Palestinians, kill and burn whilst protesting about Mohammed cartoons YET - say nothing and do even less when it comes to the total lack of human rights affecting women in Saudi Arabia (the Islamic Holy Land)??? Is it because they believe women 'deserve' this treatment? And Muslim women, you're quick to fight the French government (WHO IS NOT MUSLIM) re your right to wear the niqab BUT you're not fighting Saudi authorities to allow women there to live their life on their own - why?? It's clear to me that Muslims choose their struggles as and when it suits them, and that blatant hypocrisy especially towards women is what I find highly offensive. Islam and Muslims will never find me taking their side until men get treated by the same rules as women.

      Saleem Gamza - 2011-09-27 14:57

      Hi Cat May I firstly point out that those who kills and burn whilst protesting have overstepped the mark. Secondly - one has to separate divine law from man-made law - Hijab is divine law and has to be implemented. Every Muslim will be supportive of another Muslim to ensure that they adhere to the teaching of Islam. As for other laws which are not necessarily contrary to Shari'ah and which may have its own rationale, one can call on the authorities to consider changes and that is for the people of the country to decide. As for the specifics, it may at times be simplistic to impose one's own reality on someone else for all the detail may not be reported. Women are more respected than you can imagine - but again your views are "driven" (sic)by your own reality. In no way am I defending the Saudi's and there is much that one can complain about. To your last point :Men and Women are equal and in some cases some are more equal than others i.e. women have rights over men and men have rights over women.

      Hemingwodebeckman - 2011-09-27 15:26

      Saleem: Try applying your argument of imposing 'your reality on others' argument on yourself. Blows up in your face. Also, those who burn and kill merely 'overstepping the mark'? That is quite the understatement don't you think? And you seem blithely oblivious to the fact that your devine law is in fact only another man made law. All religions are man made, created by societies to reflect their own values. Not the other way around.

      Kaapie - 2011-09-27 15:34

      @ cat. You need to distinguish between cultural practices and religious beliefs. The Saudi practise is a cultural practice. Clearly is driven by Saudi men who perputuate this pratice contrary to Quranic doctrine, much the same as African men to to their women. However, if you believe that it is ok to wear clothing or lack thereof, is a symbol of 'emancipation' for women so to then it should be the right of muslim women to wear niqab. As with all other people, muslims have choices and if they(women) choose to wear niqab then who are we to claim that that is oppressive. Furthemore your argument about Palestine is a political one driven by religious fervour and oppression by one group of people on another and are two seperate arguments ompletely. I am in complete agreement with regards the the way women are treated in Saudi and what irks me is that in Islam 'Kings' are not allowed yet that govt who rule in the most undemocratic manner is ably supported by the same regimes who were so quick to intervene in Iraq, Afghanistan and more recently Libya. How hypocritical dont you think?

  • Currie_Mafia - 2011-09-27 14:37

    Gender discrimination Kingdom.

  • Saleem Gamza - 2011-09-27 15:58

    @Hemingwodebeckman Hi.. I did not think I would get away without someone questioning the divinity of the laws. I guess often it is easier to understand the laws being on the inside than on the outside. So, yes, fortunately I am a Muslim and the inside track. As for man-made laws, you may consider that issues such as sexual pervisity (in all its forms) are non-issues in Islamic societies, the impact of the sub-prime global financial crises was a non-issue for Shari'ah complaint banks and then the pilgrimage to Mecca is such a unique event that is not replicated anywhere. Islam is a way of life when its adherents submit to the Creator of us all - an effective value system that is transportable whether in the East or the West. Every other system is subject to the whims and fancies of whoever has the power without any constancy in the value-system .. More lata :)

      cat - 2011-09-27 16:31

      Thanks for your points Saleem but the divine law doesn't apply to me - I don't follow any religion. The issue of the mahram I've always found an affront to a women's intelligence; at the end of the day, a woman is born with a uterus AND a brain. I disagree with you that in Islam women and men are equal. If that were the case, then men would also go around with their hair covered for reasons of modesty but they don't. I have Muslim friends and colleagues so am well aware of Islamic rites and rituals, and have to say that unfortunately there isn't much I see and hear which endears me to the Islamic faith. Perhaps if I were a man and brainwashed from birth I would think otherwise. For the record, I was raised as a Roman Catholic and was repeatedly told that Roman Catholicism "is THE only right religion".... Luckily I'm the kind of person who always questions the 'holes in the arguement' and thus now don't follow any religion. You see, I concur with the person who once said: "religions are like diets, if one REALLY worked, there would be no need for all the others". And on a parting comment, there are so many gods and goddesses who were once worshipped by various civilisations during the ages, yet nowadays are considered dead beliefs. There will come a time when current religions will be viewed by future generations in the same way. I believe in rather treating people in a decent and non-harmful manner - don't need any religion to show me that.

  • Scrutineer - 2011-09-27 16:33

    Islam is the main religion of the Third World, while Christianity is the main religion of the First World. Mmmm, no wonder there is such a big difference.

  • jamessnr - 2011-09-27 16:54

    These guys in Saudi is really mad... are they still living in the 1st C or in B.C!! Shame on you guys. And the same guys cross boarder and go to Bharin to drink and do all other nonsese possible.

  • toleranne - 2011-09-27 17:11

    Saudi dress codes are based on cultural traditions. There is no explicit instruction in the Koran that specifies in detail what women should wear. Some other issues re family law & status are specified, and therefore have stronger motivation. This doesn't justify mistreatment & unfair discrimination, though. There are also some instructions in the Koran, including re respect for women, and respect for related religions (Judaism, Christianity) that are conveniently ignored when politically expedient. As in most societies, and in this one more than in others, hypocrisy rules.

      Saleem Gamza - 2011-09-27 18:03

      Saudi dress code conform with Shari'ah - Islamic Law. The Quran clearly states the dresscode. Women are to be respected as there are several chapters of Quran named after women including one which clearly is headed "Women". The special place of mothers, women is specifically mentioned. ... Women are to be respected to the degree that the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)have taught us that After Allah and the Prophet, Mothers are to be honoured and respected (and he mentioned mothers 3 times) and then he mentioned. As for those who deviate from the teachings of Quran, they are in error, but the word of Almighty God, Allah, the word here being Quran is faultless.

  • toleranne - 2011-09-27 17:26

    ctd ... How, in the 21st century, is it possible for a citizen to be charged in court for something that is not prohibited by formal legislation? If the appeals on this matter are taken to their logical conclusion, they should go to the International Sourt of Justice, which IMHO will have no problem in granting the appeal, since such blatant discrimination goes agains some of the most fundamental international agreements on justice & equality. ... and @Kaapie, please explain how in one breath you can point out the hypocrisy of Saudi and African men in treatment of women, and in the very next breath say you are "in 100% agreement" with how Saudis treat women? Which means you are in fundamental conflict with some basic tenets of the SA constitution. Please tell us that was a typo ...

      toleranne - 2011-09-27 17:32

      oops, sorry: ... Court of Justice

  • sirybob - 2011-09-27 18:02

    This article does not do justice, does not make any sense and it has no supporting proof. 1 - Islam does not allow the following: - hitting or abusing woman is NOT allowed in Islam - forced marriage is NOT allowed in Islam People who are narrow minded and do not have enough knowledge about other countries should not write articles that do not make sense. People who are ethnocentric should not be allowed to write articles because they will never understand a different culture.

      Hemingwodebeckman - 2011-09-28 08:08

      ...and still these things that 'are not allowed' happens all the time. Mostly in Isamic countries. Explain.

  • Saleem Gamza - 2011-09-27 18:26

    @Cat - I am sorry to hear you do not follow religion. Islam, via Quran and the teachings of Muhammad (peace be upon him) places women are a pedestal. While I may go on and explain the many social benefits and those things you may find problematic, our primary reason for following the law, is our respect for the law and therefore the ultimate Lawmaker. Much as people watch for speedtraps and pay their taxes on time (however begrudgingly for the possible dislike of the government), it is their fear or respect for the law. These laws change all the time. We respect the ultimate Lawgiver -and lets put it this, if you take a chance not paying your taxes you may get into trouble. How about if you don't obey the law of God Almighty, what might be your consequences. If I am wrong, at least I would have been a good person following simple laws. If I am right and you are wrong.. then what is your situation :)

  • Hemingwodebeckman - 2011-09-28 08:05

    Saleem: The anthropological evidence of the man made nature of religion –all religion- bears up very well. Simply restating the divine nature of these trite laws doesn’t add anything to the debate. As for your claim that ‘sexual perversity’ is a ‘non-issue’ in muslim countries, well I can only laugh at this moist little wad of self delusion. What are you referring to with the rather portentous and all encompassing term “such as sexual perversity’? Do you include –as I suspect- premarital sex, adultery and homosexuality? Are you seriously suggesting that these ‘perversities’ do not happen in muslim countries while you ignore the draconian and repressive laws of those countries? Do you agree rape victims should -as it often happens in Islamic countries- be punished more severely than the rapists, or that adulterers should be stoned, and your god only knows what happens to the gays? As for your off topic statement ‘shari'ah complaint banks’... Why if those banks are so pious are the countries from where the operate some of the most backward and poor in the world? But to return to the subject at hand: this woman who had the temerity to drive a car. It seems she has now been sentenced to endure ten lashes. Now that is sexist, cruel, backward and mostly primitive, no matter how you slice it.

      Saleem Gamza - 2011-09-28 14:21

      Hi There is currently no pure Islamic state, i.e. there is no state who only and strictly rule by Shari'ah only. Therefore, it may be that you are confusing some laws or happenings as being Islam. So simply put, just because someone who is Muslim does something, then that is not necessarily Islam. As a South African, I see the conflict of people wanting certain "freedoms" and then the easing of the "law" conflicts with this sought after freedom. So we find that crime and corruption is on the rise - we find people who are repeat offenders being let loose. Do you not agree? See: And And what would be your penalty for rapists? The death penalty? Perhaps not? But how would you react when someone close to you is a victim of a repeat rapists (previously convicted and legally freed). Is corruption ok? Short jail sentence and live happily ever after. What is the cut-off for these freedoms? And if you are not yourself happy with these freedoms for criminals, then what is the basis for your argument to change these laws? This is but an example for using a baseless platform to formulate laws, etc! ? :)

      Hemingwodebeckman - 2011-09-29 04:23

      Saleem: ‘Currently on pure Islamic state’? So are we to assume then that the middle east is not predominantly Islamic with laws, traditions and practices based squarely on Islamic teachings? Just because middle eastern countries don’t have imams as their heads of state does not mean that public life is not saturated with Islamic law in all its variants. It is. The middle east is primarily Islamic and as such reflect the corrosive, primitive and oppressive rules of islam. Part of that is the subjection of women, and that subjection is what we so manifestly see here in this case of the female driver. So, let’s not argue semantics. Anyway, you keep wondering utterly and completely off topic with these Strawman and Logical fallacy arguments of which your last post is crammed to the gills with. You have not answered my questions from my previous post. If you have the guts be honest and reply to what I asked we can continue this debate. Don’t go galloping off on these tediously tiresome tirades with you Begging-the-question and Appeals-to-authority rhetoric that seem to come so easily to you. Turns out the woman is question has now been pardoned by King Abdullah and need not undergo the lashings. A welcome turn of events in a ridiculous situation.

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