The Middle East Channel

Driven

On May 22, Manal al-Sharif, a 32-year-old single mother in Saudi Arabia, was imprisoned for nine days for the crime of driving a car in the city of Khobar. Sharif, a women’s rights activist whose arrest was filmed and posted to YouTube, has helped ignite a worldwide media storm over the Saudi government’s treatment of ...

FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images
FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images

On May 22, Manal al-Sharif, a 32-year-old single mother in Saudi Arabia, was imprisoned for nine days for the crime of driving a car in the city of Khobar. Sharif, a women’s rights activist whose arrest was filmed and posted to YouTube, has helped ignite a worldwide media storm over the Saudi government’s treatment of women. Most recently, Sharif helped create a popular Facebook page calling on Saudi women to publicly drive on June 17.

Sharif is just one in a long line of Saudi women to be arrested for driving a car. Late in the afternoon of Nov. 6, 1990, 47 Riyadh women first decided to take matters, and the steering wheel, into their own hands. Carefully wrapped in their abayas — the black full-body robe forced on Saudi women — they drove their cars in a convoy around the capital for half an hour. The veiled drivers, who divided themselves into 14 cars, included academics, doctors, teachers, housewives, and students from upper-middle-class Riyadh families. They made sure that the woman driver in each car had obtained a driver’s license from abroad. But it didn’t take long for both the traffic and the religious police forces to halt their ambitious drive. 

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