News / Middle East

    Saudi Authorities Warn of Punishment for Women Drivers

    Saudi Authorities Warn of Punishment for Women Driversi
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    October 25, 2013 4:49 AM
    Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry has warned women not to go ahead with a planned campaign Saturday to defy a ban on female drivers.
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    Reuters
    Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry has contacted organizers of a campaign to end the ban on women driving and told them they will be punished if they go on defying the male-only road rules, some of the campaign leaders said on Thursday.

    The women organizing the campaign have been posting online footage of themselves driving in Saudi cities, and have called on Saudi women with foreign driving licences to get behind the wheel on Saturday.

    The campaigners hope to take advantage of the ambiguous nature of the kingdom's ban on women driving, which is not explicitly enshrined in neither the kingdom's Islamic sharia law nor its traffic code.

    Saudi Arabia frequently earns bad international publicity over the issue, but any change in the effective ban on women driving might ignite the wrath of religious hardliners.

    On Wednesday the Interior Ministry issued a statement reitering that it was illegal for women to drive, but the authorities now appear to be stepping up their efforts to quash the campaign by individually contacting women involved.

    "He said he was calling on behalf of [Interior Minister] Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and that I and any other woman should not drive and if we are caught we will be punished,'' said one of the campaign organizers.

    The woman said she now planned not to drive on Saturday, although she still supported the campaign and had previously filmed herself behind the wheel in the city.
          
    Another woman involved in the campaign, who also asked to remain anonymous, said she still planned to go ahead.

    The Interior Ministry telephone calls follow a small protest by a group of conservative clerics demanding government action against the women. One of them, Sheikh Nasser al-Omar, described the campaign as a "conspiracy''.

    A ministry spokesman could not immediately be reached to confirm that the body had contacted the women.

    Women who have driven in the past have often been charged with the relatively minor offense of driving without a valid Saudi licence, which are not issued to women in the kingdom.

    But some have also been charged with more serious offenses, such as disturbing public order or staging political protests, which are illegal in the absolute monarchy.

    The campaigners say that by driving on Saturday they will not be staging a political protest, as they have not asked women to drive together in groups or to congregate in one place, even if they are in violation of traffic rules.

    Stern warning

    "The concerned authorities will enforce the law against all the violators with firmness and force,'' said Wednesday's Interior Ministry statement.

    The ministry's spokesman, Major-General Mansour Turki, told Reuters the statement applied to women driving individually as well as in groups and that it was not meant to refer only to Saturday, but to women driving at any time.

    He said it also would apply to protests by groups opposed to women driving. Turki said the prosecution service would decide whether to charge women drivers with traffic violations or more serious offenses.

    Officials have often in the past said the driving ban is in place because Saudi society wants it there. Supporters of Saturday's campaign say they want to show by driving without provoking public anger that society has changed.

    They point to a recent move by some women in the kingdom's Shoura Council, a quasi-parliament appointed by the king to advise on policy, to challenge the ban, and to Saudi newspaper columns that argue women should be able to drive.

    "The government now is in an odd position. They aren't against women driving and yet they're preventing women driving. It's very awkward to be in this position,'' said Khalid al-Dakhil, a Saudi political science professor and columnist for the pan-Arab daily al-Hayat.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
    November 06, 2013 3:03 AM
    I guess when all of cruid oil is drawn out from the wells, women eventually would take over the job of king in Saudi Arabia and it would not take a long time. It is historically a general rule that women are smarter and more diligent than spoiled sons of rich people when economics get wrong. Thank you.

    by: Rafael from: USA
    October 31, 2013 11:29 PM
    She ( wemen) in general should not only drive, but take off the burka, join a community of female against the male oppression,
    forced marriage and reduce them to a baby makers only.

    by: Xaaji Dhagax from: Somalia
    October 26, 2013 3:03 AM
    Islam does not prevent women from driving any vehicle. In Saudi Arabia there's no law or traffic rule which very explicitly bans women driving. The ban based only on antiquated customs, but I do agree that Islam, like Christians and Judaism, treat women as second class citizens.

    by: Hasham Baquaa from: Saudi Arabia
    October 25, 2013 12:15 PM
    this silly move may undermine the Country authority and legitimacy... this could lead to a civil war at the worst time in the region history and lead Iran in control of the oil fields... do you want Iranian filthy theocracy to control the world life line of energy???
    support Saudi Arabia and say - down down with Iran

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