Women driving in Saudi Arabia: Kingdom braces for protests

Activists cancel "drive-in" today after threats of legal action

Saudi Arabia was braced for possible protests Saturday after women activists declared an "open driving campaign" against the deeply conservative kingdom's ban on women behind the wheel.

Activists had originally planned a "drive-in" today but cancelled it after threats of legal action, instead declaring an open-ended campaign in the only country that forbids women from driving.

"Out of caution and respect for the interior ministry's warnings... we are asking women not to drive tomorrow and to change the initiative from an October 26 campaign to an open driving campaign," activist Najla Al Hariri told AFP Friday.

Several women said they had received telephone calls from the ministry, which warned of measures against activists who chose to participate and asked them to promise not to drive on Saturday.

"It is known that women in Saudi are banned from driving and laws will be applied against violators and those who demonstrate in support" of this cause, ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki told AFP

On Wednesday, the ministry said it would act against anyone who attempts to "disturb public peace" by congregating or marching "under the pretext of an alleged day of female driving".

In remarks to the Al Hayat daily published Friday, Turki even warned against supporting the campaign online.

Activists have repeatedly insisted that no demonstrations will be held in the absolute monarchy, which officially bans public gatherings.

Over the past two weeks, videos posted online have shown women already driving in Saudi Arabia, but women who have defied the law in the past have run into trouble with the authorities.

Click to see: Saudi female activist defies car drive warning

Click to see: YouTube clip shows Saudi teaching mother to drive in defiance of ban

In 1990, authorities stopped 47 women who got behind the wheel in a demonstration against the driving ban
In 2011, activist Manal Al Sharif, one of the organisers of Saturday's campaign, was arrested and held nine days for posting online a video of herself behind the wheel.

That year Saudi police arrested a number of women who defied the driving ban and forced them to sign a pledge not to drive again.

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