Manal Al-Sharif, a Saudi activist, would have made Rosa Parks proud when she was arrested over the weekend for simply driving an automobile in Khobar, in Saudi Arabia's oil-producing Eastern Province. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women from driving, and while there's technically no written law that forbids women from driving, citizens are required to use locally-issued licenses which aren't issued to women, resulting in a de facto ban.
From our perspective in the U.S., and that of most other countries, this is beyond ridiculous. It would be nice if the U.S. instituted a boycott of Saudi oil as a form of protest, but that will never happen. It's ironic that Saudi citizens benefit from all that oil money, and yet, in this reactionary kingdom that goes overboard with the Sunni Islam, religious police roam the streets enforcing public segregation between men and women. Because of the idiotic driving ban, women are forced to either hire live-in drivers costing $300 to $400 a month, or rely on male relatives to schlep them around. And they're not allowed to use public transport either.
And now, God bless her, Al-Sharif is in a women's prison, with her Facebook page having been taken down, and her YouTube account closed. She had begun a campaign intending to teach women how to drive, and chose June 17 as a date for women to rally around, getting behind the wheel using foreign-issued licenses. On Thursday, she had posted a video on YouTube of herself driving, which garnered over 500,000 views. Fellow activist Maha Taher said:
"When the police stopped her they told her she violated the 'norms.' There is no law that says women can't drive in Saudi Arabia and this arrest is unjust. She is a role model for a lot of people and the arrest will provoke her supporters. Now more women want to drive."