Manal Al-Sharif - The Right to Drive
Kaan Ya Makaan, Fee Hadir Al-Zamaan…
There was a Place, in Current Times…
Called Al-Khobar in the flourishing Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In this city there lives a courageous woman named Manal Al-Sharif. She is beautiful and intelligent and bright, but none of that mattered when one night she found herself stranded at work. She was stranded not because her car broke down, or because she had run out of gas, but because in her country women had never driven cars. It was not illegal to drive, in fact there was no law against it, but the state had never issued drivers licenses to women and according to many, it never would.
So Manal, a single mother working as a computer security consultant for Aramco, called her brother to come and pick her up. She needed to get home to her young son and it had been a long day. But her brother did not answer his phone, no matter how many times Manal called or how long she waited. Worried and tired, Manal finally decided to go out and try to get a taxi to take her home. As she stood by the side of the road at night, she was hassled and humiliated and bothered by men who should have never behaved as they did if they were true to their faith.
Manal found herself crying as she looked desperately for a cab and tried again and again to call her brother. She thought wistfully that if she had a drivers license and a car, she could have simply driven herself home. She would be there now, taking care of her son and relaxing after a long day instead of standing by the side of the road, feeling sad and degraded and alone. After that miserable night, Manal Al-Sharif ceased to be an individual, she is now a radiant piece of history.
On Saturday, May 21st 2011, Manal Al-Sharif was driving her car using an international license. In this way, she was completely obeying the laws of her beloved country. Yet, she was stopped by a group of what is colloquially known as Al-Mu'tawi'a or "The Volunteers" a term used for men who work for the General Presidency for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vices (often referred to in westernized countries' media outlets as the "Religious Police" but more accurately is called a "Vice Squad" i.e. the division of law enforcement that deal's with such crimes as prostitution, gambling, etc). After a brief dialogue with these men, Manal Al-Sharif was taken into official custody and had to sign a paper promising to never again drive her car in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
As Ms. Al-Sharif was being released from official custody, she asked the officer in charge of the Traffic Division she had been taken to, what law she had violated. He courteously replied, "You have violated no law, only a custom."
According to #Women2Drive tweets, later that night, or more accurately around 3am on Sunday morning, there was a large group of men knocking on Manal Al-Sharif's door and ringing her doorbell at her Aramco housing division home, demanding that she come out and go with them. They identified themselves as members of Al-Mabahith aka the Saudi Arabian Secret Service but could not provide a valid arrest warrant or entry warrant. Wisely, Manal Al-Sharif did not go with them.
After some hours of escalating shouting, and pounding and doorbell ringing, the Aramco Police Force arrived and Manal Al-Sharif and her brother went with them and the Al-Mabahith men to a local Police station.
Now, Manal Al-Sharif is in a women's prison in Al-Kohbar, awaiting the judgment of the Powers-That-Be. But what will their choice be?
If the Powers-That-Be graciously uphold Manal Al-Sharif's actions, then women all over the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will start driving. This will no doubt lead to many positive changes in that rapidly progressing country. Consequently, the Powers-That-Be will go down in history as heroes who compassionately affirmed a woman's right to drive herself wherever she needs to go rather than stand forlornly by the side of the road and weep.
If the Powers-That-Be condemn her actions, then Manal Al-Sharif will be punished. Subsequently, the Powers-That-Be will go down in history as people who have only delayed the inevitable and created a tragic folk-heroine of Manal Al-Sharif along the way. Then what? No doubt there will be more unrest, more debates and more folk-heroines will be created and, sooner or later, women will drive in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
So, what will the Powers-That-Be choose? What do you think?
UPDATE: On Monday May 30th, 2011, Manal Al-Sharif was released from the women's detention center in Dammam. The conditions of her release were that she sign a paper stating that she would not drive again and that she not take part in the event she helped to organize i.e. that women all over the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with international drivers licenses, drive their cars to accomplish any errands they may have on June 17th, 2011.
As a reaction to the arrest of Manal Al-Sharif, many Saudi Arabian women sought to prove the simplicity and correctness of women driving. There are many videos all over the internet of Saudi ladies driving their cars safely, simply and legally (using international licenses).
Here's the video that started it all:
*Written by Aisha Bilal © 2011. Care to read or leave Comments?
- Names, Translations and Aliases:
- Manal Al-Sharif: منال الشريف
- Manal Al-Sharif: منال الشريف