Saturday, June 18, 2011

Saudi women begin challenge to driving ban

Activists from the Ukranian female rights group Femen protest in front of the Saudi Arabian embassy against a ban on driving cars for women. -- PHOTO: AP

DUBAI - A CAMPAIGN to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving opened on Friday with reports of some female motorists getting behind the wheel amid calls for sustained challenges to the restrictions in the ultraconservative kingdom.

Activists have not appealed for mass protests in any specific sites in Saudi Arabia, but are urging Saudi women to begin a growing mutiny against the male-only driving rules supported by clerics backing austere interpretations of Islam and enforced by powerful morality squads.

Calls for an ongoing road rebellion - inspired in part by the uprisings around the Arab world - could push Western-backed Saudi authorities into difficult choices: either launching a crackdown and facing international pressure or giving way to the demands and angering traditional-minded clerics and other groups opposing reforms.

It also could encourage other challenges by Saudi women, who have not been allowed to vote and must obtain permission from a male guardian to travel or take a job.

'We want women from today to begin exercising their rights,' said Wajeha al-Huwaidar, a Saudi women's rights activist who posted Internet clips of herself driving in 2008. 'Today on the roads is just the opening in a long campaign. We will not go back.'

The plan, she said, is for women who have obtained driving licenses abroad to begin doing their daily errands and commuting on their own. -- AP

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