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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Saudi woman driver/activist arrested, apologizes (updated)

From France 24 earlier this week:
In a tough setback for aspiring Saudi female drivers, Saudi police have arrested female activist Manal al-Sharif, who boldly posted a video of herself behind the wheel online on Friday. Our Observer was with her for the symbolic drive.

More than 600,000 people watched the video of al-Sharif chatting with a friend as she drives around the eastern Saudi city of Khobar. The seemingly mundane scene is in fact anything but. Deeply conservative Saudi Arabia is the last country in the world to ban women from driving.

Al-Sharif was reportedly arrested on May 22 while driving, released for a few hours then taken back into custody. A Saudi security official said she is being accused of “violating public order”, and will be held for five days while the case is investigated. The video she made was removed from YouTube following her arrest, as was the Facebook page she created calling on Saudi women to collectively defy the driving ban on June 17.

Nevertheless, a new Facebook page was created almost immediately, and the video survived on video sharing site YouTube, re-posted by Al-Sharif’s supporters.
Apparently, al-Sharif could not handle the pressure being brought to bear on her by the Saudi authorities. She is said to have released an abject apology that sounds very, very strange for someone who a week ago was such a pioneer:

Manal Al-Sharief admits she made a mistake by driving a car in the Kingdom and promises never to do it again. This is according to Dr. Ghazi Al-Shammari, Chairman of the Family Solidarity Committee in the Eastern Province Emirate, who told Okaz/Saudi Gazette that this is what Al-Sharief told him when he visited her at the Women’s Prison in Dammam.

Al-Sharief is the 32-year-old Saudi woman who was detained Saturday for driving a car in Al-Khobar.

Al-Shammari had visited her accompanied by Brig. Gen. Abdullah Al-Boushi, Director of the Eastern Province Prisons.

He said he spoke to her and quoted her as saying, “I made a mistake and I’m a daughter of this nation. I have nobody but my family and the sons and daughters of my nation. I advise girls of my generation to rally behind our leadership and Ulema. They know better than us about our condition. I’m confident about what I’m saying after sitting alone and contemplating.”

She added that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is special because it has the Two Holy Mosques, is a refuge for Muslim hearts and is quite different from other countries in the world.

Al-Sharief said she was well cared for and only wanted to return to her family and her work. She had repeated she made a mistake and confirmed she would not repeat the action again, according to Al-Shammari, who was quoting a conversation Al-Boushi had with her about her needs in prison.

Okaz/Saudi Gazette reported earlier that Al-Sharief also plans to withdraw from the campaign for women to drive, according to a source at the National Society for Human Rights (NSHR).

“Manal wants to be released,” the source said. “She said the investigation had been carried out and she will withdraw from the campaign calling for women to drive cars.”
Saudi Arabia is once again safe from the scourge of woman drivers.

UPDATE: A popular Facebook page is calling on Saudi men to beat women who dare drive at a planned protest next month.

(h/t Folderol)