You drive, I whip: Saudi men warn women

Saudi men threatened to use their head dresses as a whip to prevent women from driving cars as part of a new Facebook male campaign in response to another campaign by women.

A new Facebook page also threatened men against helping women in their campaign to drive cars, saying these the Iqal (headgear) would  be waiting for these men. Women quickly hit back by threatening to use blade weapons to defend themselves.

Saudi newspapers said the men’s campaign launched on Facebook is dubbed “The June 17 Iqal campaign to prevent women from driving,” adding that it is in response to a women’s campaign launched on Facebook and Twitter under the slogan “I will drive starting June 17,” which has gained massive female support.

Male campaigners urged support for their drive and said on the page:”attention is to prevent women from driving with all our strength…….the Iqal will be waiting for any woman or man supporting the campaign for women to drive cars.”

According to the reports, more than 11,500 women and men in Saudi Arabia have joined the female drive while around 1,400 have so far joined the men’s counter-campaign. “We warn women against adopting Western attitudes and concepts and against a large increase in road accidents in case women are allowed to drive cars,” the men’s site said. The warning was met by a similar threat from women, who said on the page that they could use “bladed weapons in case they are intercepted by any one while they are driving.”

The women’s June 17 drive follows growing calls to end a long-standing ban on driving cars by women in the conservative Gulf kingdom.  Many women have already been reported to have defied the ban over the past few months. On Saturday, Saudi police detained one of the leading women in the June 17 campaign for driving a car in the streets of a key city. But they set her free three hours later following a gathering by other women near the police centre in the eastern town of Khobar.

Police said they interrogated Manal Al Sharif after she was spotted by many people driving her car through the streets of Khobar. A Saudi newspaper carried a film showing Manal driving her car in Khobar as she wore black glasses and a black scarf. “Manal drove her car through Khobar streets in defiance of the kingdom’s social traditions which prevent women from driving,” 'Sharq' said.

Last week, another women defined the ban by driving her car for four days without being stopped. Najla Al Hariri, a housewife in her mid-30s, said she drove non-stop for four days in the streets of the Western Red Sea port of Jeddah "to defend her belief that Saudi women should be allowed to drive."

"I don't fear being arrested because I am setting an example that my daughter and her friends are proud of," Hariri said, adding she was offering driving lessons for women.

In addition to being banned from driving, Saudi women cannot travel abroad without authorization from their male guardians, and are also not allowed to vote in the municipal elections, the only public polls in the absolute monarchy. When in public, they are obliged to cover from head to toe.

Hariri ridiculed the social belief that Saudi women are treated "like queens" as they are driven around by their male relatives or drivers, saying "this is a big lie." "We are always under their mercy to give us a lift," she said.