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Uprising of Saudi Women Fighting for the Right to Drive

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving a vehicle.  A conservative Saudi cleric has said women who drive risk damaging their ovaries and bearing children with clinical problems.

So it sounds like the leaders of the kingdom are concerned with the health of their ladies, but a rising number of Saudi women don't seem to agree with that opinion.

A petition in support of a Saudi woman’s right to drive has attracted more than 16,500 names in advance of a weekend campaign in which female motorists are expected to defy the kingdom’s rulers and take to the roads.

An estimated 100 women have already broken the ban in the run-up to the action sponsored by the Oct. 26 Women's Driving Campaign, activists say. Some have uploaded videos of themselves driving cars in cities across the kingdom. More are expected to join Saturday, but alleged threats by government officials compelled many activists to say the date is "symbolic" and opt for a continuous campaign instead.

But Saudi women aren't easily deterred.
"I'm scared, of course I am. It's not easy. But it's not the fear that's going to stop me," said Madeha al-Ajroush, a veteran Saudi women’s rights activist who told Al Jazeera she drove around Riyadh on Oct. 10 and plans to head out again this weekend.

On Thursday, Interior Ministry spokesman Gen. Mansour al-Turki warned that women drivers would be prosecuted. He told the AFP news agency, "It is known that women in Saudi are banned from driving and laws will be applied against violators and those who demonstrate in support (of this cause)."

"The Kingdom's laws prohibit activities disturbing the public peace and opening venues to sedition," the ministry's statement said.

On Friday, the petition was removed from the Internet in what appeared to be the result of a deliberate hack of the website. "Drop the leadership of Saudi women," read a message, which was changed throughout the day. But one member involved with the campaign told Al Jazeera that government officials ordered its server shut.

Activists deny they are breaking the law. There is no official legislation that prevents women from driving in Saudi Arabia, but they are prohibited from obtaining a license. In some areas, such as the compound of the oil giant Saudi Aramco in the eastern city of Dammam and remote Bedouin areas, women already drive.

"The whole campaign is not about protesting in a revolutionary way," al-Ajroush said. "It isn't about gathering. It's about women getting in their car and driving."

Moreover, activists note that the campaign is not centrally organized, making it harder for the authorities to target individuals involved.

Manal al-Sharif, a prominent women’s rights activist who spearheaded a driving campaign two years ago and was detained for nine days after posting a video of herself driving a car, told Al Jazeera that by not having a single leader, the campaign will prevent authorities and society at large from harassing one person.

"Having a leader diverts the attention from the movement itself. That person becomes a target for the government, people," she said. After the campaign, al-Sharif said she lost her job and custody of her son. She now lives in Dubai.

Uprising of Saudi Women Fighting for the Right to Drive Reviewed by Blogs on 12:59 AM Rating: 5

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