Saudi women say they will keep pushing for the right to drive

Activists are asking Saudi women to go on driving in public and posting online photographs or films of themselves doing so.

Faisal Al Nasser/Reuters
A woman drives a car in Saudi Arabia Oct. 22, 2013. Activists are trying to end the Islamic kingdom's male-only driving rules. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are barred from driving.

Saudi women demanding the right to drive said Oct. 27 they would keep up their campaign a day after government warnings and a heavy police presence thwarted their call for many women to get behind the wheel.

Activists are asking Saudi women to go on driving in public and posting online photographs or films of themselves doing so, after putting dozens of such videos on YouTube in recent weeks.

A video posted online on Sunday showed a woman in the black headscarf typically worn by Saudi women driving with her son to and from Kingdom Hospital in north Riyadh earlier in the day.

"The campaign continues, in order to normalize driving in our country, whose laws allow the practice of this right," said a Tweet posted on the campaign's Twitter feed.

The activists say no specific law in Saudi Arabia bans women from driving, although women cannot apply for driving licenses. Government officials say a ban is in effect because it accords with the wishes of society in the conservative kingdom.

Activists posted 12 films on YouTube said to be of women driving on Oct. 26, and said some other women had also driven but without recording their exploits on video or in photographs.

Those who did drive were defying government admonitions backed up by a hefty police presence in the capital Riyadh. Interior Ministry employees had also contacted leaders of the campaign individually to tell them not to drive on Oct. 26.

"Yesterday there were lots of police cars so I didn't take the risk. I only took the wheel for a few minutes. Today I drove and nobody stopped me. For sure I will drive every day doing my normal tasks," Azza al-Shamasi, the woman who filmed herself driving to the hospital Oct. 27, told Reuters.

In Riyadh, police erected impromptu roadblocks Oct. 26 and peered through car windows to ensure women were not driving. Many traffic patrols were also in evidence as the authorities tried to foil any defiance of the men-only road rules.

A report on, a Saudi news website, late on Oct. 26 said six women had been stopped for driving by Riyadh police.

In Jeddah, Samia el-Moslimany, a half-Egyptian, half-American woman married to a Saudi for 27 years, said she was briefly held and made to sign a pledge that she would not drive again.

"I drove around the neighborhood in Jeddah," she said.

When she drove in the kingdom's second city earlier in the evening, several cars followed with young men waving at her. Minutes after she relinquish the wheel to her driver, police surrounded her car and took her into detention, she said.

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and a US ally, is an absolute monarchy that forbids political protests.

The al-Saud family, which has ruled with the aid of clerics from Sunni Islam's strict Wahhabi school, finances the religious establishment and allows it significant control over Saudi law.

Saudi Arabia is the only country on earth to bar women from driving. It also forbids them from traveling abroad, opening a bank account, or working without permission from a male relative.

King Abdullah has pushed some cautious reforms to give women more employment opportunities and a greater public voice in Saudi Arabia, but has often faced resistance from senior clergy.

Last week some ultra-conservative clerics staged a protest outside the royal court against the campaign for women to drive.

A YouTube film made by male Saudi comedians went viral Oct. 26, parodying the Bob Marley song "No Woman No Cry" as "No Woman No Drive" to support the women's driving campaign.

In the short film, comedian Hisham Fageeh sang, whistled, and danced with lyrics that included "I remember when you used to sit in the family car but backseat ... in this bright future you can't forget your past, so put your car key away." (here)

• Reporting by Angus McDowall; additional reporting by Amena Bakr; editing by Alistair Lyon.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to Saudi women say they will keep pushing for the right to drive
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today