Women film themselves defying Saudi driving ban, but others are deterred

Some fear reprisals, but others participate in one-day 'drive-in'

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 October, 2013, 6:22am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 October, 2013, 6:22am

A few women filmed themselves driving in Saudi cities yesterday, defying government warnings of arrest and prosecution to take part in a campaign against men-only road rules, activists said.

But some others stayed at home, put off by phone calls from men who said they were from the Interior Ministry, said organisers of the demonstration against what amounts to a ban on women drivers.

Undeterred by the warnings of unspecified sanctions, and increased security in Riyadh, several women posted videos of themselves driving yesterday.

Saudi professor and campaigner Aziza Youssef said the group had received 13 videos and another 50 phone messages from women showing or claiming they had driven. She said they had no way to verify the messages.

If the numbers are accurate, this year's campaign is the most successful effort yet by Saudi women demanding the right to drive. Youssef said the group had not received any reports of arrests or women being ticketed by police.

May Al Sawyan, a 32 year-old mother of two and an economics researcher, said that she drove from her home in Riyadh to a grocery store and back.

"I just took a small loop. I didn't drive for a long way, but it was fine. I went to the grocery store," she said.

Activists had originally issued a call on social-media networks for women across the ultraconservative Muslim kingdom to drive their cars yesterday to challenge the ban.

More women are expected behind the wheel in the coming days if authorities take no measures against those who defied the ban yesterday, activists behind the campaign say.

"The authorities clearly do not want any gatherings on a specific date," activist Maysaa al-Amudi said of the "drive-in".

Youssef said she and four other prominent women activists received phone calls last week from a top official with close links to Interior Minister Prince Muhammad, warning them not to drive yesterday.

Mosques across Saudi Arabia broadcast sermons on Friday telling women to stay at home. On Friday, hackers targeted an online petition that was launched last month and amassed more than 16,000 signatures before the authorities blocked it.

"I am against women driving in the kingdom," read a message posted on "We do not allow women at all to drive in Saudi."

Amnesty International has denounced the threats, while Human Rights Watch called for an end to discrimination.

Women who have defied the ban, which is not even enshrined in law, have run into trouble with the authorities in the past. In 1990, authorities stopped 47 women who demonstrated against the driving ban.

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Reuters