Manal al-Sharif, a women’s rights activist and co-founder of the Women2Drive campaign, has remained in her native Saudi Arabia despite being honoured last week with the prestigious Vital Voices Global Leadership award.
The award ceremony was held in Washington and celebrates “women leaders around the world who are the unsung heroines working to strengthen democracy, increase economic opportunity, and protect human rights,” the organisation writes on its website.
Al-Sharif became famous in 2011 when she posted a video of herself driving a car on public roads in Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed to drive. Her Twitter account is in itself an anti-regime proclamation; “Because my mother couldn’t change my present, I decided 2 change my daughter’s future”. The video, which went viral on Youtube and Facebook with over 1 million views, quickly became a sensation and eventually led to her arrest by Saudi authorities, accused of “disturbing public order” and “inciting public opinion,” according to the Oslo Freedom Forum. Al-Sharif was later released and has since also been seen outside Saudi Arabia to voice her criticism against the regime.
This year’s edition of the Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards honoured five Arab women for their roles in protest movements in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Apparently, Al-Sharif was originally scheduled to attend the ceremony but sources say that she decided to stay in Saudi as a result of threats from the authorities there, writes Huffington Post. But in comments on Twitter, Al-Sharif firmly rejected the credibility of the sources and information mentioned in the Huffington Post article. She said that the main reason for her absence had to do with “death threats from insane people.” She also warned that the article would only worsen her situation.
UPDATE: Huffington Post has now referred to Al-Sharif’s tweets.