Free Manal al-Sherif.
“CAIRO — Saudi authorities have re-arrested an activist who defied a ban on female drivers in the conservative kingdom, a security official said Monday.
Manal al-Sherif was accused of “violating public order” and ordered held for five days while the case is investigated.
The 32-year-old al-Sherif launched a campaign against the longtime ban last week by posting a video clip on the Internet of herself behind the wheel in the eastern city of Khobar.
Through Facebook, the campaigners set June 17 as the day all women should drive their cars. The page, called “Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself,” was removed after more than 12,000 people indicated their support for the call. The campaign’s Twitter account also was deactivated.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women — both Saudi and foreign — from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.
Al-Sherif was initially detained for several hours on Saturday by the country’s religious police and released after she signed a pledge agreeing not to drive.
She was re-arrested on Sunday at dawn, said a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “
Update 1: The 17th June 2011 could be an interesting day in Saudi Arabia:
“This law is simply a backward, visceral objection to the thought of a woman behind the wheel, a physical embodiment of a volition which is too offensive to enact. It is about maintaining some semblance of control, the erosion of which it is thought would be complete if women were allowed to drive.
There is this odd view of women in the kingdom as being always on the cusp of dissolute behaviour – reminiscent of an attitude towards slaves who would rebel and murder their owners if not kept perpetually oppressed. This is a ghastly spiral, where the worse the victim is treated, the worse they are likely to be pre-emptively repressed. When arguing against allowing women to uncover their heads or faces in public, some (men and women) respond that if that if this were to pass, women would surely walk around in semi-nudity.
It doesn’t occur to these people that public codes of dress do not exist in most other Arab countries, and women still manage to dress in a culturally appropriate way. Women are allowed to drive throughout the conservative Arabian Gulf, and these societies have not imploded in moral degradation.
The Saudi driving ban is a social, rather than political, issue, over which the authorities would rather not incur the religious establishment’s wrath or create controversy. But if there is one lesson Arab rulers would do well to heed, it is that withholding rights raises the chances of an explosion of dissent.
The arrest of Sharif certainly appears to have done nothing to dissuade the Women2Drive campaign from going ahead; if anything it seems to have garnered it more publicity. There are reports that the religious police are teaming up with traffic forces to patrol and stymie the campaign. If these are to be believed, then Saudi Arabia is in for a first-of-its-kind confrontation on 17 June. “