“Out of caution and respect for the interior ministry’s warnings … we are asking women not to drive tomorrow and to change the initiative from an October 26 campaign to an open driving campaign,” activist Najla al-Hariri told AFP news agency on Friday.
Several women said they had received telephone calls from the ministry, which openly warned on Thursday of measures against activists who chose to participate and asked them to promise not to drive on Saturday.*
“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 Ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki told AFP. On Wednesday, the ministry said it would crack down against anyone who attempts to “disturb public peace” by congregating or marching “under the pretext of an alleged day of female driving.”
In remarks to the Al-Hayat daily published on Friday, Turki even warned against supporting the campaign online. When asked what would happen to those who did, Turki said legal measures will be taken “against whoever violates the anti-cyber crimes law,” an offence punishable by up to five years in prison in the kingdom.
Among clerics, many of whom are strongly against women driving in the
ultra-conservative kingdom, one echoed those warnings on Friday. In a weekly sermon at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Sheikh Osama al-Khayat warned against “raising slogans carrying demands that could threaten social peace and … cause sedition” to the benefit of “enemies”.
Activists have repeatedly insisted that no demonstrations will be held in the ultra-conservative absolute monarchy, which officially bans public gatherings.
A campaign website where an online petition had amassed more than 16,000 signatures since September before authorities blocked it two weeks later, was hacked on Friday.
“Drop the leadership of Saudi women,” read a cryptic message in English message posted on the website oct26driving.com.
The cancelled protest was the latest incarnation of a movement that began in 2011, when Manal al-Sherif was arrested after she posted a video of herself driving online. After her arrest and eventual release, many Saudi women protested the ban by driving their own cars.
The UN Human Rights Council urged Saudi Arabia to end discrimination against women, among other rights abuses.
Referring to Saturday, blogger Eman Nafjan said “the date was only symbolic, and women have begun driving before and will continue to drive after October 26.”
Over the past two weeks, videos posted online have shown women already driving in Saudi Arabia. A summary of the campaign follows.
1- Since there is no justification for the Saudi government to prohibit adult women citizens who are capable of driving cars from doing so, we urge the state to provide appropriate means for women seeking the issuance of permits and licenses to apply and obtain them.
2- Many claim that this is a “societal decision”. However the public discourse will not be resolved except through a firm governmental decision to implement what was proposed in point one. Here it is important to point out that women will not be forced to drive if they do not wish to do so.
3- Deferring an issue such as this until a “societal consensus”, has only increased divisions because it constitutes that some will be forced to concede. We as a Saudi people are diverse and accepting of all views that are not prohibited in the Quran or by the Prophet.
4- In case the Saudi government maintains the ban on women driving, we demand that it presents to the citizens a valid and legal justification and not simply to defer it to a societal consensus.
5- In case the government refuses to lift the ban on women driving and refuses to provide the people with a legal and valid justification, we demand that it provides “society” with a legal mechanism through which it can express what it wants.
Oct 26th Campaign Official Website [Now Hacked!]
*[UPDATE] OCTOBER 26TH – This morning news agencies are reporting that some women are ignoring both the Kingdom’s ban and activists’ pleas to cancel the drive-in. For example, driving campaign supporter Mai Al-Swayan, an economic researcher, told CNN she is one of the women who drove Saturday — and posted a video of her action to YouTube. She said she drove from home to a grocery store in Riyadh, and then back with her groceries. “I drove on the highway and was noticed by a couple of cars but they were fine with it,” she said.