Can Social Media Help Saudi Arabian Women Drive?

By Kenna McHugh Comment

Women of Saudi Arabia have not been allowed to drive a vehicle since 1979. But you may wonder what happens when a woman from the Middle Eastern country comes to the U.S. and learns how to drive and returns to her native country. Does she try to drive in the country that forbids it? Well… yes, and more.

Manal Al-Sharif learned to drive in the U.S. and has improved her skills to the point where she’s grown fed up with the ban in her home country. She is starting a campaign to allow women of Saudi Arabia to drive freely, and did so by posting a video on YouTube where she discusses the ignorance of the law. She proposes women should at least be able to drive in an emergency. She is driving and speaking to Wajeha Al-Huwaider–who also had uploaded a video of herself driving, on International Women’s Day in 2008–about why this issue is important to her.

What is really cool about the YouTube video is that Al-Sharif is driving in a city of Saudi Arabia as she talks about the her campaign. “I feel so proud that people have volunteered to join the campaign.” The campaign called “I Will Drive My Own Car” will start June 17, 2011.

Unfortunately, she was arrested twice. First time, she was held for six hours by religious and traffic police and only released after signing an agreement that she will not drive again. Second time, she was arrested from her home at 3 a.m. and has not been released. According to the Saudi news organization Sabq, Al-Sharif is being held for five days on charges of driving and inciting other women to drive.

To say the least, Saudis are outraged. Saudi women are using the social media to call attention to Al-Sharif plight. The Twitter #Women2Drive is ablaze. The other Saudi women who plan to start driving on June 17 have begun another hash tag, #FreeManal and a Facebook page requesting her release: We Are Supporting Manal AlSharif. Plus, there is a petition signed by more than 600 thinkers, lawyers and activists has been presented to King Abdullah. MS. Magazine says that even people who had taken little interest earlier and those who opposed women’s driving, are speaking out against the arrest.

Twitter is also being used to disseminate religious scholars’ stands on whether women’s driving is permissible in Islam. Referring to the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings, the prohibition is also not against the act of driving itself, but rather against possible consequences of driving.

One religious scholar, Muhsin Al-Awaji, publicly stated on television that his own daughters drive on trips to the desert or to their farm. The king of Saudi Arabia himself acknowledged that women regularly drive in rural areas.

After the arrest of Al-Sharif, more women have openly admitted driving and uploaded videos of themselves driving in Saudi Arabia. What is being stress is that prohibition of women driving is not a law. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds via Twitter and YouTube.