The Women of Saudi Arabia - Driving into History
Kaan Ya Makaan, Fee Hadir Al-Zamaan…
There was a Place, in Current Times…
Called the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and on Friday June 17, 2011 the ladies of this country proudly donned their hijabs, picked up their car keys and headed out to boldly create history with fashionable sunglasses, a smile and up-tilted chins. Twitter, Facebook and just about every newspaper and TV station is buzzing with news from and about these wonderful ladies.
Not to forget the other half, many men have taken part in the June 17th campaign Women2Drive by sitting in the passenger seat with their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters driving. Also quite a few men have gone out looking for women drivers to protect them from the threats of physical assault issued by men opposing the women's right to drive. Keep up the good work guys! You make us proud!
"Arrived safely back at my mother's house," @azizayousef happily tweeted, "I was followed home by three cars I thought contained traffic officers only to find out that the young men had followed me to make sure no one bothered me while I drove."
Another Saudi woman reported driving past two police patrol cars without incident. One excited lady tweeter, said there have been no official orders from the Powers-That-Be regarding what to do in regard to women drivers on June 17, so the police are unsure what to do.
According to @LailaSindi on twitter, she and her cousin and a friend went out driving at 9am. They intended to drive along 60th St and then take the Ring Road back home. The car Laila Sindi was driving, a black Acadia with un-tinted windows, made it easy for people to see that it was a woman behind the wheel. As a result some of the men who saw the ladies gave them encouragement while others communicated their disapproval. When the ladies drew near the Ring Road they were stunned to see a check point that had not been there earlier and found themselves forced to stop.
A lieutenant and a private approached the ladies' car and asked them to disembark, which they did. Then the lieutenant had the ladies get in the back of his Ford and confiscated their purses. Feeling uncomfortable at this point, the ladies began to argue but the lieutenant refused to listen and told them that all would be well.
The lieutenant then told the private that he was going to take the ladies to the police station and that the private should request backup for the check point. Then the lieutenant got in his Ford and proceeded to drive the ladies away. Fearing what the lieutenant's intentions were, Laila Sindi demanded to know where he was taking them and demanded he return their purses. Then she told the lieutenant that her uncle was an important attorney and that she knew what his name was from reading his name tag and would bring a lawsuit against him.
The lieutenant did not reply and continued to drive silently for about twenty minutes. Then he pulled his car over at the side of the Ring Road, got out and locked the doors. He stood by the side of the road and made some phone calls on his cell phone then he rifled through the ladies' purses and removed their cell phones. At this point, the ladies began to scream and curse and one of them broke down crying.
After about a quarter of an hour talking on his cell phone, the lieutenant returned to the car and returned the ladies' purses to them, minus their cell phones so that, according to him, they would not call anyone or take pictures. Sana'a, Laila Sindi's cousin, threatened the lieutenant again with a lawsuit that would be brought against him by her father, the lawyer. Ignoring the ladies words again, the lieutenant began driving his car along Al-Abdiah road.
As he drove, the lieutenant told the ladies that if they would be quiet all would be well. Of course at this point, none of the ladies believed him and they continued screaming and threatening him. Finally, the lieutenant yelled, "By God! I am on your side!!"
None of the ladies believed him. Laila Sindi again demanded the return of her cell phone so that she could call her father or brother to come and get them but the lieutenant refused, and he again swore that he was on their side and wanted to help them. He said that someone had seen the ladies driving and had phoned in a complaint using an emergency number and that the lieutenant and the private had heard the report and decided to help the ladies evade being arrested.
The lieutenant then said he was a "son of Mecca" and that he feared that if the ladies were arrested then something unspeakable would happen to them and so he decided to help them. Laila Sindi reports that she did not believe him and she continued to insist that he return her cell phone so that she could call her father. The lieutenant said that he and the private were now off-duty and that as long as no one knew about this then they would not get into trouble for helping the ladies, but if she called someone and news of this got around he would be in trouble.
Then the lieutenant told the ladies that the choice was theirs, either they could trust him and wait for two hours, after which he would take them home, or they could run the risk of being picked up by someone else who would take them to jail. As the ladies discussed their options, the private drove up in their car whereupon the lieutenant again told them they should make a choice: either they could wait for two hours in his car and then he would drive them home, or they could get in their car now and drive away and risk being arrested.
After further discussion, Laila Sindi says that her cousin decided to trust the lieutenant and they stayed in the car for over two hours. The lieutenant refused to return the ladies' cell phones despite repeated requests for their return so that they may call their families who were no doubt worried about them. When the ladies told the lieutenant that Sana'a needed her medicine which had been left at home, he again told them they could either wait or drive away and get picked up and have their families go through the trouble and embarrassment of picking them up from jail.
After some time, the lieutenant told the ladies that he would take them back home during Juma'ah (Friday) prayer, that way the streets would be relatively empty and quiet and he would not get into trouble for protecting them. When the prayer began, the lieutenant drove the ladies home while the private drove their car home. Upon arriving at the ladies house, the lieutenant refused to give them his phone number when they requested it so that their families might thank him for his protection. Instead he said, "You never saw me and you don't know me."
When the ladies gratefully got out of the car, they again requested the return of their cell phones, which the lieutenant again refused to return on the basis that it was for his own protection.
"After we got home," Laila Sindi tweeted, "we greeted our family and my cousin began telling them the story while I used her brother's cell phone to post the story on Twitter. This is all that happened and forgive me for the many tweets...I admit I'm still shaking from the shock and worry."
I can't help looking at this story and feeling a great sense of gratitude that Laila Sindi, her cousin Sana'a and their friend made it home safe and sound. This is a story that could have had a very different ending. I find myself suspecting the motive of this lieutenant and private duo for three simple reasons: 1) There was no need to wait two hours or until Friday prayer to return the ladies to their home. 2) There was no need to keep their cell phones when they were dropped off at home. 3) There was no need for the repeated requests for silence and the ignoring that went on. So I would like to offer some advice to all the ladies out there driving:
- When you are stopped, or better yet, when you are about to be stopped, call someone immediately and tell them where you are and the name of the officer/individual who stopped you and his license plate number.
- Do not surrender your cell phones.
- Comply with the officers' instructions within reason but don't be afraid to say "No". They know the societal rules there and any officer when faced by ladies unaccompanied by men will not insist on anything that makes the ladies uncomfortable. So do NOT get out of your own cars and do NOT get into someone else's car.
- The Tweet hashtag for any woman being arrested for driving is #women2jail. So please post any arrests that occur so that the ladies arrested on June 17 are in the public eye.
So far, there have not been any reports of women drivers being arrested. Many have speculated that this is because the Powers-That-Be have given their unofficial support to women driving in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. If this is so, then many thanks for the wisdom and compassion of this choice.
UPDATE: Today many Saudi Arabian newspapers came out claiming no women drove cars in Saudi Arabia yesterday. However, it has been confirmed that approximately 50 women drove yesterday, and that is only counting the ones who announced it via facebook, twitter and youtube. No doubt many more women have driven than the confirmed 50 and many more will soon join their ranks.
Another interesting development is the disappearance of the @LailaSindi twitter account. There have been many speculations as to why. Some claiming her family wished for privacy or asked her to take it down for her own safety. Others think it is to avoid getting the officers mentioned in her story into trouble. Yet others say it was a fake account with a fake story posted on it. Who knows what the truth is? It will be interesting to see what develops in regards to Laila Sindi in the days to come.
Overall, the June 17 "I Will Drive My Car Myself" campaign was a wonderful, liberating success according to many Saudi ladies. The people who organized the campaign have promised to continue their efforts to make sure the ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia is lifted soon. One such effort was announced today, June 18, 2011 via the w2drive twitter account, it was a posting urging all Saudi ladies to dial 993 and request that a Saudi Arabian driver's license be issued to them. The posting also asked that the phone conversation be recorded and that the phone call be repeated until a decision is made by the Powers-That-Be. Good luck ladies!