A Saudi female activist who called for a fresh campaign on Saturday to have a ban on female driving lifted defied a stern warning by the Ministry of Interior and drove a car with her father all the way from the airport to her home in the Gulf kingdom.
Lujein Al Hadoul underscored her defiance with a film posted on social networks showing her driving through the streets of the capital Riyadh just after she returned home from the United States, where she is on a government scholarship.
Hadoul drove her father’s car as he sat next to her apparently to show his support for women’s campaigns to end the age-old ban on female driving. The woman was seen smiling and confident as she drove back home just a few hours after the Ministry of Interior issued a tough warning that it would not allow women to drive on Saturday.
“Lujein has just arrived in Riyadh…she is on her way home now and is driving and happy today, Wednesday Oct 24th, 2013…Inshallah (God willing), we will see this picture again after 10 years and laugh at it,” he said in the brief film.
Hadoul appeared on her Twitter page last month calling on Saudi women to take to the streets and drive cars on Saturday in a second major campaign in two years by women in the conservative Muslim Gulf kingdom to push the government to lift that ban.
More than 100 Muslim scholars in Saudi Arabia of 29 million people issued a statement on Wednesday rejecting any government decision to permit women to drive cars.
The statement was issued shortly before the Ministry of Interior told women to ignore Hadoul’s calls and warned they could be arrested.
“Regarding calls on social networks for women to gather and drive cars on October 26, and considering local laws which prevent any moves that will harm social peace and security and open the door for a sedition, the Ministry of Interior affirms to all that the competent authorities will enforce discipline and security with all available means and full force,” the Ministry said in a statement.
Saudi women defied the ban in 2011 and campaigned for a decision to allow women to drive. Many of them took to the street and drove cars, triggering anger among Saudi male hardliners who are strongly opposed to female driving.
Saudi female activist Manal Al Sharif, one of the campaign leaders in 2011, hit headlines after she was briefly jailed when she was caught driving.
In recent comments, Al Sharif said Saudi women must push ahead with their “struggle” to achieve all their rights not only driving cars.
“The question should not be whether women will be allowed because the Saudi government will never give away rights just like that,” she said.
“The question should be: will women take the right to drive... my answer is yes, that right and bigger.. if they understand what led to losing their rights and stopped accepting their rights to being used by the system to please certain group of people in Saudi Arabia and here I mean religious establishment…It's up to women not them. Women don't realise that yet. Once they do, they will win the struggle and set their own rules that everyone shall respect.”
Saudi officials say it is up to King Abdullah to issue a decision ending the ban, which they attribute to social barriers in the country, the world’s largest oil exporter.