June 17 dawned many hours ago in Saudi Arabia, and early reports suggest that the day declared “Women 2 Drive” by Saudi women’s rights activists has been a success.
Reports are coming in from Saudi journalists and Twitterists: about 20 women have been seen driving in Riyadh. Five or six drove past the capital. Women have also been reported driving in Jeddah. And there have been no arrests.
An early morning YouTube video depicted one woman driving to the supermarket in Riyadh. Several drivers made their own reports to Twitter. Wrote @TheSaudiLady: “Going out now to drive with my brother.” @Abualkhair tweeted: “My wife is driving my old car in Jeddah now and everything is fine.” One driver in Jeddah, @LailaSindi, was reportedly stopped and briefly detained by police but allowed to return to her home.
Some sources suggest the Women2Drive movement has quiet support among Saudi royalty.
Manal Al-Sharif, the 32-year-old computer consultant who spent 10 days in jail in May after publishing a YouTube video of herself at the wheel filmed by Saudi feminist Wajida Al-Huwaider, did not drive. Nor was she able to talk to the media about driving. But her Twitter account (@manal-alsharif) was busy today with brief replies to supporters of the campaign.
The Women2Drive campaign resumes the push for the right to drive—the basic right to autonomy and mobility—initiated by Saudi women 20 years ago with a similar show of civil disobedience to the driving ban. After the demonstration, leading Saudi cleric mufti Bin Baz issued a fatwa against women driving. The participants were punished with work and travel bans and have remained generally silent about their efforts in the decades since.
The advent of web 2.0 (including YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter) and the Arab Spring have dramatically reshaped opportunities for Saudi women’s rights activists to publicize and grow their campaign. One group has even launched a Manal Driving School online to provide education and resources to future Saudi women drivers.
As Manal Al-Sharif has said, “A rainstorm starts with a few drops.”