x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

The long drive towards October 26 protests in the kingdom

Women in Saudi Arabia are set to protest for the right to drive on October 26

‘Teach me how to drive” implored a text message I received recently from a friend in Saudi Arabia. She is determined to participate in the forthcoming October 26 protests, a campaign that is renewing calls to lift the ban on women driving in the kingdom.

This is the third time such calls have been heard, following mass actions in 1990 and 2011.

Despite there being nothing in Sharia about women not driving, some religious clerics continue to try to dissuade women from doing so.

Sheikh Saleh Al Lohaidan warned women on the website Sabq.org that science has shown that driving “automatically affects the ovaries and pushes up the pelvis”.

Growing up in Saudi I regularly heard lectures warning us of one thing or the other. How women dressed and what they did or do continues to preoccupy the time of many clerics.

Meanwhile, my friend, a mother of three, is exhausted by always depending on her husband or another male member of her family to take her or her children out. Even the simplest trips become a major hassle.

My friend’s brother, who for the longest time was staunchly against changing the law in the kingdom, agreed to teach her and will even be there with her on October 26 in the passenger seat.

His main reason for wanting to accompany his sister is because of “the male maniacs on the roads.”

As someone who has driven in Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq, I was told that you could drive anywhere after surviving those roads, or rather, non-roads with their complete absence of road rules.

You are lucky if the traffic lights are working, and even if they are, you have to tread cautiously at the signals.

Many men in Saudi Arabia on the roads never bothered learning how to drive properly, and have acquired their driving licence through unofficial means.

Some of the most dangerous driving tricks and gimmicks come out of Saudi Arabia, and are posted on YouTube.

Some of these drivers are really good at stunts and should have a proper outlet where they can show off their driving skills away from main roads.

As women gear up for the next mass drive, we are seeing more online petitions popping up. Some voices from the past have even joined the new generation of Saudi women drivers.

Madeha Al Ajroush, a Saudi psychotherapist and photographer, who drove in the 1990 protest announced on Twitter that she will be joining the new protest and has been commenting about the issue.

“Yes, I will drive again on Oct 26”, she tweeted. “I am a full adult with full mental capacity. Why am I put in a position of an inferior human being in my country?”

It takes a lot of determination to go out there on the road and drive among crazy drivers who don’t respect rules and don’t respect you.

But being that way is nothing new for many of my friends and for many Saudis, who continue to push back at the barriers they find in their way. 

rghazal@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @Arabianmau