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Saudi Arabia: Arrest of Woman for Driving

(June 2, 2011) Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi woman, was arrested in Dammam on May 21, 2011, for posting a clip on YouTube showing her driving a car. Dammam is the largest city of the oil-rich Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi authorities held a press conference the same day to address the issue of women's right to drive. In that conference, the Director of Public Security, General Saeed Bin Abdullah al-Qahtani, said that the issue of women driving is a legislative matter, while the Director of the Saudi Shura Council's Commission for Human Rights, Dr. Mishal al-Ali, told the news organ ASHARQ AL-AWSAT that there is no legal or religious restriction against the right of women to drive. (The Shura Council is an advisory institution with no legislative powers.) Al-Ali added that the duty of the Saudi authorities is to ensure and protect that right. He further criticized those who contend that women driving offends Islamic morality or opens the door for dissolute behavior. This incident highlights the contentious division within Saudi society about an issue that classical Sharia' law left to the decision of the individuals involved. (Saudi Arabia: Arrest of Female Driver Sparks Debate, ASHARQ AL-AWSAT (May 24, 2011).)

In a statement published a few days later, the Saudi Deputy Minister of Interior, Prince Ahmad bin Abd el-Aziz, confirmed that the Ministry of the Interior is still enforcing an order issued 20 years ago that prohibits women from driving. (Our Duty Is to Enforce the Regulation [in Arabic], ASHARQ AL-AWSAT (May 24, 2011).)

It is of interest to note that under Sharia' law, women have full rights to independently conduct business, own property, and conclude contracts, notwithstanding the fact that in Saudi Arabia they have no right to drive cars.