Last updated: 22 June, 2012

Saudi women cancel driving protest, petition king

Saudi female activists have cancelled their plan to brave a driving ban on Friday, settling instead for petitioning King Abdullah to allow them to get behind the wheel, members of their group said.

“I think that last year’s attempt by ladies to drive in public has sent the message … Now it’s time to address officials to urge them to issue driving licences to women,” said researcher Hala al-Dosari.

“This is exactly what we did by handing over a petition (to the king) to review this matter,” she told AFP.

Another woman, who requested anonymity, said “we will not go on the streets, as that negatively affects members of women’s families,” referring to male guardians, whom police demand to sign a pledge that female relatives will not break the ban again.

Activists have formed a group — Women2Drive — that had urged females in the ultra-conservative kingdom to get behind the wheel in a campaign that has seen several defiant women arrested.

The campaign’s pages on Facebook and Twitter urged women who support lifting the ban to use its logo as their profile pictures.

On Sunday, group member Hind al-Zahid told AFP the campaign has been postponed until Friday following the death of Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz.

On June 10, more than 950 people petitioned the king to allow women to drive in the only country in the world where they are banned from doing so.

The online petition urged the monarch to “encourage women who have obtained driving licences from neighbouring countries to begin driving whenever necessary.”

They also called on the king to “establish driving schools for women and (begin) issuing licences.”

Many women have driven since the campaign began last year and many have been arrested and forced to sign a pledge they will never drive again, activists say.

One group of defiant women drove cars last June in response to calls for nationwide action against the ban.

The campaign, which spread through Facebook and Twitter, was the largest mass action since November 1990, when 47 women were arrested and punished after demonstrating in cars.

No law specifically forbids women from driving, Prince Nayef, who was previously interior minister, formally banned women from doing so after that protest.

Women with the financial means hire drivers, but others depend on the goodwill of male relatives to get around.