Manal Al-Sharif, a 33 yr old IT consultant, a single mother and one of the organizers of ‘June 17th - Women2drive’ initiative has been arrested for the second time on Sunday.
She was initially detained for six hours after she went on a test drive around city of Khober with passionate activist Wajiha Al Huwaider and posted the clip on a video sharing site.
The first time she was arrested was when she drove with her brother and his wife in a car, so she did not violate the ‘guardian law’. She did not violate the dress code; she did not violate the traffic law either. Legally there’s no clause in the traffic law that explicitly mentions ‘women are not allowed to drive’. But there’s an official ban and locally women are not issued driving licenses.
A woman driving a vehicle is technically not a legal crime but a moral one – so the traffic police call on PVPV (Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of vices) cops to escort Manal for questioning. As I understand, she was asked to sign an affidavit declaring not to drive again and was sent home.
It was late on Saturday night around 2 am local time when she was taken by plain cloth police. My twitter streamline was full of shocking and supporting comments about her arrest; I could not believe she was re-arrested, I was so shaken I couldn’t sleep the remaining night.
Ironically, she was detained from the Saudi ARAMCO compound where women usually drive within the boundaries of the compound. In Saudi Arabia, one can break social/cultural norms as long as they remain in ‘gated communities’ and out of the public eye.
Saudi ARAMCO holds the largest conventional reserves of crude oil, is the world’s largest producer and exporter of crude oil - and many expat and local residents of khobar works there.
Usually ARAMCO compounds are heavily securitised and it’s unusual but not surprising that plain cloth police was able to arrest her without a warrant.
It’s been almost ten hours since her arrest and as I understand she’s pleading her case to the chief police officer and is held at Dammam correctional facility. The authorities asked her not to talk to media so her twitter account is not updated.
Unlike many men, her brother’s support is exemplary. He was possibly arrested along with her for showing support. if he is, I am quite confident he will be asked to sign an affidavit with dubious clauses and set free.
The driving campaign calls on women of all nationalities in the country with valid int’l driving license to start driving from June 17th - an event page that attracted thousands supporters online. The movement gives clear guideline for any one wishing to participate as follows :
"1- There will be no gathering or demonstrations. Each woman willing to participate should just get in her car and go about her daily business without the driver.
2- Only women who have valid driving licenses from other countries are to drive.
3- There are volunteers who will teach other women to drive until the government sets up an official system for women to obtain local driving licenses
4- Everyone should drive with their safety belts on and drive carefully.
5- Women who drive are encouraged to videotape and upload "
Unfortunately, I don't posses an int'l driving license and deeply sad about not being able to participate in this historical opportunity.
What I love about Manal is she’s incredibly empathetic, knowledgeable and exceptionally brave. She and other women galvanized the campaign and encouraged more women to drive. I have never seen so many women driving in different cities as in recent days. Some went unnoticed, some were deliberately overlooked. Yet everyone who's driving is multiplying the spirit by sharing their videos online!
I hope people all over the world continues to show support for this woman, for a movement, for us as ordinary women wishing just to carry about our daily lives without hiring a driver or asking our family members, it’s really as simple as that.