Saudi Arabian women took the wheel again today, answering the call of the much-publicized online “Women2Drive” campaign asking women to defiantly get in the car, drive, and post it on YouTube, please. Organizers and media had projected 100+ participants based on Facebook and Twitter pledges. No official word is out yet on the scope of the protest today, but as of 8 p.m. Riyadh time Twitter feeds (#women2drive) reported 30+ women driving, and at least 2 women were pulled over by police and released without arrest. Here’s one of several YouTube videos posted today for the Women2Drive campaign:
One woman tweeted: “I JUST DROVE TO MY AUNT’S HOUSE !!!!!!!! it’s only a block away and it’s in a compound but it still counts XD,” and another reported: “I’m out w/ my mom and she’s driving her car right now, go mom I’m so proud of u.”
This latest push to break the ban on female driving gained momentum following the actions of two women in May: Najla al-Hariri, who drove for four straight days, and and Manal al-Sharif, who filmed herself driving.
Al-Sharif was detained for 10 days, then released, but only after signing a pledge not to drive or speak publicly. She is now facing charges of “besmirching the kingdom’s reputation abroad and stirring up public opinion,” according to Al Jazeera English. The last similar protest in kind and scale was in 1990, when 47 women were arrested for driving in Riyadh. They faced severe consequences on the job front, and were called whores in public.
Despite international fanfare and current waves of political energy throughout the Middle East region, it’s unclear whether this action will translate to any significant changes for women in Saudi Arabia — whether in the realm of driving, or otherwise. “Many may support the action online, it’s believed few will actually have the courage to drive [haha, AJE] the message home,” one Al Jazeera English newscaster said. NPR’s Andy Carvin tweeted: “So if it’s true that police were told to not interfere with #women2drive today, what if women drive tomorrow? Or the day after that?”