Thursday, December 18, 2014

Saudi open to debating the ban on women drivers, says Shoura Council leader

December 17, 2014 - The Saudi English language daily, the Arab News, issued the following. A link to the story is here, and the text is below.

The Shoura Council will discuss the issue of women’s driving but this must take place within its rules and regulations, the head of the consultative legislative body said recently.

Sheikh Abdullah Al-Asheikh said the council is not avoiding the issue but “it is important that the discussion occurs within regulations and according to specific mechanisms.”

He said the council did not reprimand three members recently who spoke to the media after it refused to discuss the women’s driving issue. He said the council had merely pointed out that the proposal did not comply with regulations.

He said the council is currently looking to boost its online presence by developing its website and opening accounts on YouTube and Twitter. Over the past 20 years, the Council of Ministers has issued more than 900 decisions based on the recommendations of the Shoura Council, he said.

In a recent interview, Al-Asheikh said the council would discuss all topics that fall within its powers and functions, including general development and economic plans, social plans, annual performance reports, rules and regulations, international treaties, and other national priorities.

In response to a question about how the council operates with 30 women members, Al-Asheikh said: “The council has welcomed the historic decision by King Abdullah to appoint Saudi women to one of the most important national decision-making bodies because he saw the need to broaden participation.”

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Saudi Arabia extends detention of women arrested for driving, relative says

Ava Batrawy reports for AP on the two Saudi women held for driving illegally. A link to the story is here,  text below.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Two Saudi women detained nearly a week ago for violating the kingdom's female driving ban were ordered held for 25 more days on Sunday, a relative said.
The women, who were arrested Dec. 1 after driving into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates, are supporters of a grassroots campaign launched last year to oppose the ban. The two women have a combined Twitter following of more than 355,000.

Organizers behind the Oct. 26 campaign say the ban on women driving underpins wider issues regarding guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia that give men powerful sway over women's lives.
Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, set out to defy the kingdom's ban on women driving by crossing into her country from the UAE.


Organizers behind the Oct. 26 campaign say the ban on women driving underpins wider issues regarding guardianship laws in Saudi Arabia that give men powerful sway over women's lives.
Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, set out to defy the kingdom's ban on women driving by crossing into her country from the UAE.

The kingdom's hardline interpretation of Islam holds that allowing women to drive encourages licentiousness. No such ban exists in the rest of the Muslim world, including Saudi Arabia's conservative Gulf neighbors.

In a video uploaded to YouTube Nov. 30, al-Hathloul filmed herself driving toward the Saudi border in what she said was "an effort to sustain the campaign for women's driving."

"She wanted to highlight the absurdity" of not being allowed to drive into her own country, an activist said on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisal.

Saudi border guards confiscated al-Hathloul's passport and kept her at the border for nearly 24 hours.
Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, arrived the next day to deliver food, water and a blanket to al-Hathloul, Maysa's sister Hannah al-Amoudi said.

Human Rights Watch said both women were then detained apparently for driving, though it is not clear if they will face criminal charges.

Hannah said authorities notified the family on Sunday that they were extending her sister's detention for another 25 days. They did not provide the legal reasons for holding her.

Al-Hathloul is in a correctional facility for juveniles, and al-Amoudi is in a prison. The women have been interrogated without the presence of an attorney, but were allowed to see relatives and speak to relatives on the phone.

There was no official Saudi comment on the arrests.

In October, Saudi Arabian women got behind the wheel to protest the country's ban on female drivers; the demonstrations marked the one-year anniversary of last year's campaign, which encouraged women to drive, then share video and photo proof online.

Last month, the Saudi king's advisory council recommended that the government lift its ban on female drivers. Under the recommendations, only women over 30 would be allowed to drive, and they would still need permission from a male relative. Women would also have to be off the road by 8 p.m., and would be prohibited from wearing makeup while driving.
Additional reporting by Mashable


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

#BBCtrending: Saudi woman driving blog 'arrest'

Illustration of Lujain Al-Hathloul by Mohammad Sharaf
Illustration of Lujain Al-Hathloul by Mohammad Sharaf
Mai Noman of BBCtrending reports on December 3, 2014: link here, story pasted below.

The name of a woman who live-tweeted her attempt to drive across the Saudi Arabian border has become an international trend, as rumours of her arrest circulate online.
On 30 November Saudi activist, Lujain Al-Hathlool, filmed herself driving in the United Arab Emirates with the intention of crossing the border back to her home country as a part of the ongoing '26 October' campaign, which challenges the Saudi ban on female drivers. The video has had over 800,000 views and over 3,000 comments on YouTube.
Al-Hathlool also documented her journey on Twitter, saying "follow me to find out what will happen at the border". Arriving at the border with Saudi Arabia, she live-tweeted the moment when she was stopped by a Saudi customs officer at the border. Straightaway, Al-Hathlool's name in Arabic became an international social trend.
She tweeted that officials had taken aside, and were making phone call after phone call. Hours went by. Her friend and UAE-based Saudi journalist Maysaa Al-Amoudi, drove to the border from Dubai to bring her supplies.
"Twenty-four hours spent on the border of Saudi," Al-Hathlool tweeted to her 233,000 followers on 2 December. "They won't give me back my passport and they won't let me pass through and no word from the Ministry of Interior. Complete silence from all the officials".
Since then, her timeline has been silent.
An Arabic hashtag that translates to "Lujain Al-Hathlool arrested" has been tweeted nearly 500,000 times, although BBC Trending was not able to confirm the arrest with the Saudi authorities.
Lujain Al Hathlool posted a picture of her on twitter driving
But a statement by Human Rights Watch says activists have told the organisation that both Al-Hathlool and Al-Amoudi have been detained and it is calling on the Saudi authorities to release the two women. Al-Hathlool's husband and family have not been able to reach her either, Saudi blogger Abdullah Al Dayhailan told BBC Trending.
The campaign calling for Saudi women's right to drive has gathered global support, but the topic remains a contentious issue inside the kingdom and the online debate is just as divided.
Many of those who oppose female drivers saw that Al-Hathlool's action showed contempt for state authority and disrespect towards Saudi culture. "Regardless of what we think of women driving, what Lujain is doing is like child's play, she did not respect her society or her customs" one Saudi man tweeted.
"She knew darn well that by breaking the rules she would face some consequences," another man commented.
But some Saudi men have expressed support for Al-Hathlool and women's right to drive. "Lujain is on the border not because she has drugs in her handbag or because she's carrying a bomb but, no it's more dangerous than that…she's driving a car," tweeted one, with a sense of irony.
Others who have joined the debate suggested that Al-Hathlool is not actually breaking the law because she is driving with an Emarati licence that allows drivers to drive in any Gulf Cooperation Council country, including Saudi Arabia.
Although there is no clear law in Saudi Arabia which bans women from driving, Al-Hathlool's legal standing is uncertain, says blogger Al Dayhailan.
"Although a religious fatwa is not legally-binding, it is still treated as such" he said.
Reporting by Mai Noman

Saudi woman defies driving ban to support activist

Tuesday, Dec 02, 2014 - printed in Gulf News - link to the story here. Manama: A Saudi woman has posted a video clip of her driving a car in the capital Riyadh on Monday evening in support of an activist who was questioned for insisting on driving into the kingdom in defiance of a ban. “I am driving my car for the second time in support of Loujain Hathloul and her friend Maysaa Al Amoudi,” the woman who introduced herself as Umm Abdul Mohsen, said.
“They are detained over a ridiculous accusation and they cannot enter their country using their own cars. There is no law that bans them from entering their country,” she said in the short clip posted on social networks.

Loujain was questioned by the Saudi police at the border point with the UAE after she insisted on driving into the kingdom.The activist argued that she had a valid UAE driving licence that allowed her to drive in any of the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.

The GCC, formed in 1981, comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.No legal text in Saudi Arabia bans women from driving, and women drivers are apprehended for driving without valid licences.
Loujain sought to use her UAE licence to bypass the ban and turned her attempt to drive through the borders and into Saudi Arabia into an international media affair by tweeting regularly about its progress and about how she was blocked at the entry point.
“They cannot ban me from entering even if they think that I am breaking the law because I am a Saudi citizen,” she tweeted. “Besides, my licence is valid in all GCC countries in accordance with the agreement.”
Maysaa, a UAE-based Saudi journalist, presenter and producer, joined her at the border and provided her with supplies to help her through the wait.
“I am now at the crossing point and the border customs want my ID. They refuse to let me in, but I came here to support Loujain and I did not insist on entering [Saudi Arabia],” she tweeted.
Umm Abdul Mohsen’s video clip and Loujain’s much publicised attempt have expectedly divided Saudi social media users over the merit of women allowed to drive in the kingdom.
The online debate has been going on for years with both camps holding on to their views and using a wide spectrum of religious, social and economic arguments to consolidate their attitudes.
By Habib Toumi Bureau Chief
Gulf News 2014. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Saudi Arabia woman arrested at border for defying drive ban: activists

ABC News picked up this story from AFP. A link to the story is here and the text is below.
The story is dated December 1 2014.

A Saudi Arabian woman who tried to drive into the kingdom in defiance of a ban has been arrested after being blocked at the United Arab Emirates border, activists say.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that does not allow women to drive.
"I have been at the Saudi border for 24 hours. They don't want to give me my passport nor will they let me pass," Loujain Hathloul said in a Tweet.
Activists said she was arrested at the border with the UAE on Monday afternoon, but the interior ministry could not immediately comment on her case.
Another woman, UAE-based Saudi journalist Maysaa Alamoudi, who went to support her, was also arrested, an activist said.
"They transferred her and Maysaa... to the bureau of investigation" at a Saudi police station, said the activist who asked for anonymity.
Neither of the women answered phone calls from AFP.
Activists said border officers blocked Ms Hathloul because she was driving, and asked her to wait until they received "orders from their superiors".

If someone brings me a horse or a camel to the border, maybe then I'll be allowed to pass.  - Loujain Hathloul


"The customs [department] have no right to prevent me from entering even if in their opinion I am 'a violator' because I am Saudi," Ms Hathloul tweeted on Monday morning.
She said her driving licence "is valid in all GCC countries", a reference to the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council which includes Saudi Arabia.
Ms Hathloul also posted details about her long confinement in her car.
Six hours into her wait she had said she was "optimistic", and joked: "If someone brings me a horse or a camel to the border, maybe then I'll be allowed to pass."
An activist who spoke to AFP said Ms Hathloul was trying to make a point in her unusual attempt to drive through the border.
"She knew that they wouldn't let her pass," the activist said.
In October, dozens of women drove in the kingdom and posted images of themselves doing so as part of an online campaign supporting the right to drive.
In response, the interior ministry said it would "strictly implement" measures against anyone undermining "the social cohesion".
Women drivers have previously been arrested and cars have been confiscated, according to activists.
They said women's driving is not actually illegal, and the ban was linked to tradition and custom in the Islamic nation.
AFP

Monday, November 24, 2014

Expat drivers harass our women

Opinion piece about the issue of male drivers harrassing the women they are driving around in Saudi Arabia. It was originally printed in Al-Sharq al-Aswat but appeared in the English language daily the Saudi Gazette on November 24, 2014. Here is a link to the story and the text is below.

LOCAL VIEWPOINT

Expat drivers harass our women

Saud Al-Fawzan
Alsharq


UNFORTUNATELY, every week we read a new story about an expatriate driver who has harassed one of our fellow female citizens. This includes private and taxi drivers.

These incidents find their way to the social media, thanks to those who want to smudge the reputation of our beloved Kingdom. Should I blame the driver who has come to us from the deepest reaches of Asia or should I blame those who prevent our fellow female citizens from driving because they think it is an action that might lead to further sins?

Ironically, those who oppose women driving are the ones who are in dire need of a decision that would allow female motorists to get behind the wheel.

Some detractors remind me of a story that took place in 1880 in the United States when an indigenous man asked his chief about the time the civilization of Native Americans would collapse. The chief told him this, “When you see the white man’s wagon pass by you.”

Some of the critics think along these lines. They think the concept of women driving is not suitable for our society.

I do not see any good ways to prevent harassment by those arriving from abroad. No matter how severe the punishment is, the problem of harassment won’t go away.

Regrettably, we either overlook or ignore the fact that those drivers are illiterate. However, if drivers are truly indispensable, we should not trust them with our women and daughters.

Why? Because incidents of harassment involving these drivers are on increase. A newspaper recently published a story of a young woman who jumped out of the car while traveling on road because the Asian driver harassed her. What should we expect tomorrow from such drivers?

The only way to curtail such crimes is to admit there are crimes of this type in our society. We should recognize the problem and try to find suitable solutions although the evident solution is lying before our eyes — allowing women to drive.

I do not think such a solution is impossible to apply, for we have applied solutions before for more complex issues than women driving.

Princess Ameerah Interview with MailOnline about Saudi Women Driving

This appeared on 11/24/14 in the Mailonline. A link to the story is here.
Story pasted below.

Princess Ameerah, the former wife of a multi-billionaire Saudi Arabian royal has vowed to fight to win the basic right for women in the kingdom to drive a car, telling MailOnline that it 'can happen overnight'.
As a princess with a wo

EXCLUSIVE - From a £20bn divorce to steering change in Saudi Arabia: The glamorous princess leading the battle against kingdom's female driving ban (and why she loves to get behind wheel of her Mini Cooper)

  • Ameerah, 31, who divorced £20bn Prince Alwaleed bin Talal last year spoke to MailOnline about her campaign to emancipate women
  • Hopes ban will be lifted in very near future 'with a little bit more pressure' 
  • Enjoys driving a £15,000 Mini Cooper when in Europe and America
  • Desert kingdom forbids women driving and it has been reported that one woman was given 150 lashes for getting behind the wheel recently
  • Campaign of defiance has seen women uploading videos of them in cars 
Princess Ameerah, the former wife of a multi-billionaire Saudi Arabian royal has vowed to fight to win the basic right for women in the kingdom to drive a car, telling MailOnline that it 'can happen overnight'.
As a princess with a wonderfully privileged life, she is accustomed to being driven from palace to penthouse in chauffeur-driven limousines. She used one as a guest of honour at the Westminster Abbey marriage of Prince William and the then Kate Middleton in 2011, and regularly socialised with Prince Charles.
But now a divorcee, Ameerah, 31, said in an interview that she is currently just as comfortable in her own modest £15,000 Mini Cooper which she drives when she is in Europe and America. 
Influence: The glamorous princess spoke to MailOnline at the 5th Abu Dhabi Media Summit in UAW lat week
Influence: The glamorous princess spoke to MailOnline at the 5th Abu Dhabi Media Summit in UAW lat week
Inspirational: Princess Ameerah, right, and Queen Rania of Jordan, left, are powerful drivers of change 
Inspirational: Princess Ameerah, right, and Queen Rania of Jordan, left, are powerful drivers of change
Women in her desert kingdom cannot enjoy that simple pleasure and she is determined to see them similarly empowered.
She told MailOnline at the 5th Abu Dhabi Media Summit in the United Arab Emirates last week: 'It is my job and duty to use my power and influence to highlight these kind of issues and to try to find solutions. I am offered platforms to speak around the world, and I must use them to try to change things.'
Women have been barred from driving in Saudi Arabia since the establishment of the state in 1932 and earlier this year, a woman reportedly received 150 lashes after being caught behind the wheel.
But Ameerah is confident that – with a little bit more pressure – the government will lift the ban shortly.
She said: 'It will be a hugely important step, and it can happen overnight'.
Protests and acts of defiance against the ban have grown in recent years, with women posting videos of them behind the wheel to social media. The latest campaign day was held on October 26.
The World Economic Forum’s annual report on gender rights regularly portrays Saudi Arabia as one of the worst countries for women. And the driving ban is a potent symbol of their inferior status.
Every single Saudi woman has to have a 'male guardian', typically their husband or father or brother, who has the same legal power over her as a parent has over a child. 
She requires formal permission for almost all activities, including working, travelling, and sport, and depends on him financially and for housing.
Ameerah said: 'I don't believe the ban will go on indefinitely. It will be like the decree calling for 20 per cent of Parliament to be made up of women – a surprising development, but one which happened very rapidly.
'I believe that it is the generation of young people in Saudi Arabia which is going to accelerate change in the country.'
Among those 'leading the way', said Ameerah, is Prince Turki bin Abdullah Al Saud, a young royal and Governor of the Riyadh Province who is also a Leeds University PhD candidate.
Privilege: Princess Ameerah, pictured with her former husband Prince Alwaleed bin Talal at The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's wedding, and right with Malala Yousafzai, said: 'It is my job and duty to use my power and influence to highlight these kind of issues and to try to find solutions'
Privilege: Princess Ameerah, pictured with her former husband Prince Alwaleed bin Talal at The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's wedding, and right with Malala Yousafzai, said: 'It is my job and duty to use my power and influence to highlight these kind of issues and to try to find solutions'
Privilege: Princess Ameerah, pictured with her former husband Prince Alwaleed bin Talal at The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's wedding, and right with Malala Yousafzai, said: 'It is my job and duty to use my power and influence to highlight these kind of issues and to try to find solutions'
Ameerah said Saudi women currently have to employ a driver, and that proves impossibly expensive for many. It can cost up to £340 a month.
Of her own driving experiences, she said: 'We still can't officially drive in the cities and towns, but I have driven in the desert many times.'
'I have an international license and drive a Mini Cooper when I am in Europe and America. I find the GPS very helpful,' Ameerah added. 'I do not drive in London or anywhere in the UK, however, because driving on the left is quite confusing.'
Ameerah said two wheels could be just as good as four too, adding: 'I ride bikes from time to time.'
But even cycling in Saudi Arabia is a pursuit that is severely restricted for women - they can only do so in so-called 'recreational areas', while dressed in full Islamic body coverings and accompanied by their male guardian.
An ultraconservative interpretation of Islam means women can only use their bikes 'for entertainment' too, rather than for work or other purposes.
I believe that it is the generation of young people in Saudi Arabia which is going to accelerate change in the country 
These are just the type of restrictions which the Saudi women calling for emancipation want to see lifted. 
There was good news last month when some of those taking part in a closed session of the Saudi King's advisory council apparently recommended women over 30, wearing no make-up, should be allowed to drive between 7am and 8pm.
An official spokesman for the council denied any policies were agreed, but the claims at least provided encouragement.
The kingdom is the only country in the world that forbids women from driving, but there has been a positive response to groups of female activists posting pictures and videos of them driving on social media.
This is all part of a movement which has seen women ‘taking responsibility for their future’ using new technology, said Ameerah.
Speaking to MailOnline about the remarkable transformation in her life, Ameerah said she was coping well from her split from Prince Alwaleed bin Talal - one of the richest men in the world.
Raised in a middle-class home in Riyadh, Ameerah famously arranged a short interview with Prince Alwaleed as part of a school journalism project when she was just 18.
Defiance: Women in Saudi Arabia have begun to use social media to post videos of them driving in protest at the ban. There are reports that one women was given 150 lashes for being caught behind the wheel
Defiance: Women in Saudi Arabia have begun to use social media to post videos of them driving in protest at the ban. There are reports that one women was given 150 lashes for being caught behind the wheel
They were meant to talk for 10 minutes, but got on so well that the conversation lasted for two hours.
'We just clicked,' she said of the now 59-year-old royal, whose vast fortune includes assets such as the legendary George V Hotel in Paris and Plaza in Manhattan, and who is known as the 'Arabian Warren Buffett'.
Their marriage, which took place within a year, was very low-key to begin with – it was not even made public until 2009 – but Ameerah was handed the fairytale life of an Arab Princess.
But that hit the buffers last year, however, and the hugely glamorous couple divorced early in 2013.
They remain 'great friends', with Ameerah also still describing the Prince as 'my mentor'.
Ameerah, whose divorce settlement as the Prince’s fourth wife remains undisclosed, has thrown herself into work – especially philanthropic causes, and her production company, Time Entertainment.
She also runs Tasamy in Saudi Arabia, a centre for people who want to volunteer for public service so as to 'make their country a better place,' said Ameerah.
She is fast becoming one of the most influential Arab women in the world, working closely with world figures including Queen Rania of Jordan, and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
I have an international license and drive a Mini Cooper when I am in Europe and America... I do not drive in London or anywhere in the UK, however, because driving on the left is quite confusing
Activists behind the driving rights movement which started in 2011 are part of a larger protest against state oppression, but Ameerah believes the battle is being won.
She said: 'Saudi women are doing incredible things – we're making progress all the time.'
She has more than a million followers on social media sites including Twitter and Instagram, and sees the web as being hugely important for women to get their message across.
Referring to some 83 per cent of under 25s in the Middle East and North Africa who have access to the internet, Ameerah said: 'to be connected is also about being mobile, travelling, working with people globally.'
She admitted there were too many inconsistencies in Saudi Arabia, where a substantial part of Parliament is made up of women, but where men and women still have to use different doors to get into buildings.
'The web gives women equal opportunities,' she said. 'Women can set up their business online, prosper and be successful, and they can have a voice too through social media.'
Women’s rights have been improving slowly since King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud came to power in August 2005.
He appointed 30 women to the Shura, his advisory council, in a historic breakthrough for Saudi society.
This sets the stage for 2015, when a new decree not only allows women to vote in municipal elections for the first time, but they will be able to run for local government office too. 
Hopes: Ameerah said: 'Saudi women are doing incredible things – we're making progress all the time'
Hopes: Ameerah said: 'Saudi women are doing incredible things – we're making progress all the time'
Hopes: Ameerah said: 'Saudi women are doing incredible things – we're making progress all the time'
Friends in high places: The Princess kisses Chelsea Clinton. Ameerah has been praised by leaders around the world for her efforts in promoting equal rights in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East
Friends in high places: The Princess kisses Chelsea Clinton. Ameerah has been praised by leaders around the world for her efforts in promoting equal rights in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East
Ambitious economic plans have also seen increases in the number of women finding employment in the private sector and going to university.
More generally, Saudi women are being recognised as major public figures, rather than individuals who have to stay in the background.
One of Ameerah’s proudest moments came in 2011, when, in the same year as Prince William’s wedding, she received the 800th Anniversary Medal for Outstanding Philanthropy from Prince Philip.
She said: 'It was truly amazing to receive such an award from the Prince. I really appreciated it coming from a person who has so much experience of life. It was such an honour to speak to him.
'Both the British Royal Family and the British public are renowned for their generosity and good works.'
Chelsea Clinton, the only daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton, has said: 'Ameerah's advocacy on behalf of Saudi women has provided a tremendous contribution to how we think about the rights of girls and women around the world.'
Ameerah said her own motto in life is: 'Throw yourself over the edge that you're always scared of. Try being independent; do it your way. You'll love it.'