May 22, 2011

Yes, a car. The only country on the face of the earth to impose such laws. Via Al Jazeera:

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world to ban women, both Saudi and foreign, from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.

And people wonder why change is so difficult in an area with regimes as reactionary as Saudi Arabia, a country with enormous influence and clout, especially among the Gulf states. And it would be easy to dismiss this as simply the product of backwards thinking or religious intolerance, but it is more than that. Kafka himself would be impressed by the lengths they've gone to for complete and utter control.

The reports are a bit sketchy but it appears the woman arrested (Manal al Sharif) was detained yesterday for questioning, let go, rearrested and is now being being held in a women's prison, a reform facility. Her Facebook page taken down, and her YouTube account seems to have been closed in the last hour, although for now the videos are still up.

This is the 21st century, right?

Via The Guardian:

Saudi authorities have arrested an activist who launched a campaign to challenge a ban on women driving in the conservative kingdom and posted a video on the internet of her behind the wheel, activists said.

The YouTube video, posted on Thursday, has attracted more than 500,000 views and shows Manal Alsharif, who learned to drive in the US, driving her car in Khobar in the oil-producing Eastern Province.

"Police arrested her at 3am this morning," said Maha Taher, another activist who launched her own campaign for women driving four months ago to spread awareness of the issue.

An Eastern Province police spokesman declined to comment and an interior ministry spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy that does not tolerate any form of dissent and applies an austere version of Sunni Islam, in which religious police patrol the streets to ensure public segregation between men and women.

Women are not allowed to drive and must have written approval from a designated guardian - a father, husband, brother or son - to leave the country, work or travel abroad.

The campaign Alsharif launched is aimed at teaching women to drive and encouraging them to start driving from 17 June, using foreign-issued licences.

While there is no written law that specifically bans women from driving, citizens must use locally issued licences which are not issued to women, making it effectively illegal for them to drive.

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