Thursday, February 26, 2015

How can we lift the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia?

Opinion piece by Neaz Rooqaf printed in the English daily, the Saudi Gazette, on February 27, 2015. You can link to the story here,  and the text is pasted down below.

Like all progress in our conservative society, if women are ever going to be permitted to drive in the Kingdom, we must focus on modest steps to satisfy those on all sides of the debate.
In no realistic version of the future will women suddenly start driving the next day, even if a law is passed that allows them to do so. Progressing to that point will require the establishment of a framework and a process of several stages:
Stage 1: Establishing a framework
Driving schools will be set up for women, where licenses will be provided with the permission of the woman’s male guardian.
A police training academy will be established for female police officers who will monitor traffic violations and be called to scenes of accidents involving women drivers. In addition, ambulances called to the scenes of an accident must have both male and female paramedics.
Stage 2: Easing into it
Once the framework is set up, it will be time to test it. But like the implementation of all new programs, it will start with a limited “soft launch”.
Women in this stage will be permitted to drive; however, only in the presence of a male guardian. Due to the framework requirements, this will be rolled out city by city; for example, Jeddah or Riyadh to begin with.
 There will also be restrictions on the time that women can drive, say between 5:30 a.m. and 9 p.m., because of the relatively small number of female police that will at that time be in the police force. However, there will be an exemption for medical or other emergencies. This stage will ensure that all the initial problems with the roll out are resolved and that the results are satisfactory.
Stage 3: More cities involved in the roll out
This stage will involve removing the requirement that a male guardian be present when a woman is driving. Timings can be restricted to between  5:30 a.m. and 9 p.m., based once again on the availability of female police officers, although by now the number of such officers should have increased. There will now be many cities involved in the roll out of the program, although women will not be permitted to drive between cities.
Stage 4: The final stage
The final stage will go into effect when all major cities have set up the framework for women driving and have satisfactorily  completed the previous stages and have a sizable female police force. After this has been accomplished, the timing restrictions can be lifted.
 There are a number of different ways to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia while satisfying all of those who are for and against them doing so.  No matter what route we take to get there, I believe that if we work together we can.
Neaz Rooqaf

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What is the relation between Saudi women driving and rape?!

This opinion piece appeared in the Saudi English language daily, The Saudi Gazette on February 15, 2015. The writer is Faisal J. Abbas, Editor in Chief of al-Arabiyah English. You can link to the story here, or read it below.

What is the relation between Saudi women driving and rape?!

Faisal J. Abbas

Media outlets should always remember that they have a responsibility to inform the public and as such must always strive to adhere to the highest possible standards of professionalism and journalistic ethics.

Many might find it strange that one has to repeat what is - without doubt - the very soul and essential cornerstone of our profession.

However, when reputable Arab television channels are being used as a platform for the ideas of people like Saudi historian Saleh Al-Sadoon, one wonders whether our job is to inform, stimulate minds and raise questions or simply to serve as meaningless, yet somewhat entertaining, optical chewing gum for the masses.

If you haven’t heard yet, Mr. Sadoon recently raised a few eyebrows when he appeared on Rotana Khalijia TV and defended Saudi Arabia’s much-disputed ban on women driving by saying that it was meant to protect women from rape in case their cars break down.

When the show’s female presenter pointed out that women drive in the US, Europe and the Arab world, he replied: “They don’t care if they are raped on the roadside, but we do.”

Mr. Sadoon also added that he was concerned by the idea that some women may be raped by their male chauffeurs, but proposed a solution to that potential problem. “The solution is to bring in female foreign chauffeurs to drive our wives,” he suggested, at which point the presenter couldn’t prevent herself from laughing.

Existing preposterous views

Of course, nobody is suggesting that this Saudi historian should not have the right to say what he wishes; clearly, such preposterous views do exist among ultra-conservatives in the Kingdom and there is no point in hiding or being shy about this fact.

However, we can’t keep throwing stones at Western media for exclusively giving airtime and column inches to radical Muslims - given that we believe Islam shouldn’t be solely represented by the likes of hate cleric Abu Hamza just because a newspaper wants to sell more copies - only for us to make the same mistake in our own backyard.

Yes, the Rotana Khalijia TV presenter had every right to laugh, as Mr. Sadoon’s opinion certainly can’t be taken seriously. However, it is no longer a laughing matter when tens of newspapers and TV channels around the world are now reporting this story, which may lead to more misunderstanding of our religion, culture and conflicting views within Saudi society.

No counterargument

My issue with the whole matter is that there was no counterargument. Yes, the TV host did put Mr. Sadoon under the spotlight and appeared to be ridiculing him on air, but there should have been another historian, female Shoura Council member, advocate or any other party who could have demonstrated that not all Saudis, Arabs or Muslims share such views.

For the record, this same TV channel did a brilliant job two years ago when they brought on a medical doctor to challenge a Saudi cleric who infamously said that driving can damage women’s ovaries.

Obviously, it didn’t take much for the doctor to win the argument. However, as one would expect, very little has been reported about this discussion while clerics with radical points of view continue to generate headlines globally.

As for the ban on women driving, like the issue with cinema in Saudi Arabia, I don’t think a clear explanation exists as to why there is a de facto, unjustified ban on both. However, the debate continues within society, local media, government and the Shoura Council.

Now, you may wonder what drives a supposedly educated historian or a member of the clergy to make outrageous presuppositions against women driving. The answer lies in Abdulrahman Al-Rashed’s must-read Al-Arabiya column “Poor education, the mother of all problems!"

Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor-in-Chief of Al-Arabiya English. Follow him on Twitter: @FaisalJAbbas

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Saudi women's rights campaigners 'freed from prison'

The western media are picking up reports that two Saudi women who were jailed for driving, have been released from prison. This story from AFP was posted on the UK's Daily Mail site on February 12, 2015. A link to the site is here, and the text is pasted below. This is just a preliminary report - to confirm rumors of their release.

Two Saudi women's rights activists, one of whom tried to defy a ban on female driving, have been freed after more than two months in jail, a campaigner said on Friday.

"Yes, Loujain is free," said the campaigner who spoke with Loujain Hathloul after she left prison.

Hathloul "just said that she's released and she's happy," said the activist, who did not give a name.

Maysaa Alamoudi, detained at the same time as Hathloul, has also been let out of jail, her family confirmed, according to the activist who spoke with AFP.

"Peace be upon you, good people," Hathloul tweeted late on Thursday.

She and Alamoudi had been held since December 1, after Hathloul tried to drive into the kingdom from neighbouring United Arab Emirates in defiance of the ban.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world which does not allow women to drive.

Alamoudi, a UAE-based Saudi journalist, arrived at the border to support Hathloul and was also arrested.

In December, activists said a court in Eastern Province had transferred the two women to a special tribunal for "terrorism" cases.

At the time, campaigners did not provide full details of the allegations against the pair but said investigations appeared to focus on the women's social media activities rather than the driving.

The activist who spoke to AFP on Friday did not know whether the two women were facing charges or what conditions were placed on their release.

Hathloul has 232,000 followers on Twitter. Before her arrest she tweeted, sometimes with humour, details of the 24 hours she spent waiting to cross into Saudi Arabia after border officers stopped her.

Alamoudi has 136,000 followers and has also hosted a programme on YouTube discussing the driving ban.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Saudi Historian Says U.S. Women Drive Because They Don't Care If They're Raped

This TV interview has been shown an written about widely in the Arab world and the west. Here is the take of Huffington Post by Ed Mazza on 2/10/15.  A link to the story is here,  and the text is below the video clip of the show that appeared on 1/31/15. The video has subtitles.

A Saudi Arabian historian trying to justify the nation's ban on female drivers says women who drive in other countries such as the United States don't care if they're raped and that sexual violence "is no big deal to them."
Saleh al-Saadoon claimed in a recent TV interview that women can be raped when a car breaks down, but unlike other countries, Saudi Arabia protects its women from that risk by not allowing them to drive in the first place, according to a translation posted online by the Middle East Media Research Institute.
"They don't care if they are raped on the roadside, but we do," al-Saadoon said on Saudi Rotana Khalijiyya TV.
“Hold on. Who told you they don’t care about getting raped on the roadside?” asked the host, a woman who is not named in the transcript.
“It’s no big deal for them beyond the damage to their morale,” al-Saadoon replied. “In our case, however, the problem is of a social and religious nature.”
Two other guests on the show -- a man and a woman -- appeared to be in shock over his comments. Al-Saadoon said they were out of touch.
"They should listen to me and get used to what society thinks," al-Saadoon said.
Since the rape argument didn't seem to be convincing anyone, al-Saadoon tried another approach, claiming that women are treated "like queens" in Saudi Arabia because they are driven around by the men of the family and male chauffeurs. That led the host to ask if he wasn't afraid that women might be raped by their chauffeurs.
Al-Saadoon agreed.
"There is a solution, but the government officials and the clerics refuse to hear of it," he said. "The solution is to bring in female foreign chauffeurs to drive our wives."
That caused the female host to laugh and cover her face with her palm.
"Female foreign chauffeurs?" she said. "Seriously?"
Saudi women face serious penalties if they are caught driving, including lashing. Two women who defied the ban on driving last year, Loujain al-Hathloul and Maysa al-Amoudi, are being tried in a court that handles terror cases.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Two women referred to ‘terror’ court for driving in Saudi Arabia

On Thursday, December 25, 2014 this story appeared in the Guardian via the AP in Dubai. A link to the story is  here, and the text is pasted below.

Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, thought first female drivers to be referred to specialised court in Riyadh
This image, released by Loujain al-Hathloul, shows her driving towards the United Arab Emirates - Saudi Arabia border before her arrest on 1 December. Photograph: Loujain Al-Hathloul/AP
Two Saudi women detained for nearly a month for defying a ban on females driving were referred to a court established to try terrorism cases on Thursday, according to friends of the defendants.
Activists said it was the first time female drivers have been referred to the specialised criminal court in Riyadh, and that their detention is the longest of female drivers in Saudi history.
Four people close to Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, said they are not being charged for defying the driving ban but for voicing opinions online. They declined to elaborate on the specific charges because of the sensitivity of the case and anonymously for fear of government reprisal.
They told the Associated Press the women’s defence lawyers had appealed against the judge’s decision to transfer their cases to the court, which was established to try terrorism cases but has also been used to try peaceful dissidents and activists. An appeals court in Dammam, the capital of Eastern Province, is expected to rule on the referral in the coming days, they said.
Human Rights Watch recently said Saudi authorities are expanding a crackdown on people who criticise the government online. It said judges and prosecutors are using a 2007 anti-cybercrime law to charge Saudi citizens for peaceful tweets and social media comments.”
At the time of their arrest, Hathloul and Amoudi had a combined Twitter following of more than 355,000. They were vocal supporters of a grassroots campaign launched last year to oppose the ban on women driving.
In 1990, 50 women were arrested for driving. They had their passports confiscated and lost their jobs. In 2011 a woman was sentenced to 10 lashes for driving, though the king overturned the sentence.
Supporters of the driving campaign delivered a petition to the royal court this month asking King Abdullah to pardon the two women.
Organisers of the campaign, which began in October 2013, say the ban on women driving underpins wider issues that give men powerful sway over women’s lives. An activist said the ban is also part of “a wider effort to quash any chances of raising the ceiling on civil liberties” in Saudi Arabia.
Though no laws ban women from driving in Saudi Arabia, authorities do not issue them licences and ultra-conservative Saudi clerics have issued religious edicts against it. No such ban exists anywhere else in the world, even in other conservative Gulf countries.
Thursday’s brief court session was the second time the women appeared before the judge in the eastern al-Ahsa region, where they have been detained after driving to Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates.
Hathloul was stopped by border guards and her passport was confiscated for more than 24 hours when she attempted to cross the border on 30 November with a UAE driver’s licence in an act of defiance.
Amoudi, a UAE-based Saudi journalist, was stopped when she went to deliver food and a blanket to Hathloul at the border, activists and relatives say. They were formally arrested on 1 December.
There has been no official Saudi comment on the arrests.
Hathloul is in a correctional facility for juveniles and Amoudi is in a prison. Relatives say they have been allowed to see them for short supervised visits.

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