Riyadh: Saudi women activists have called for a new day of defiance next month of the longstanding ban on women driving in the kingdom.
An online petition entitled “October 26, driving for women” had on Sunday gathered more than 5,800 signatories, as activists try again to push authorities to end the unique ban.
“I will drive on October 26,” activist Nasima Al Sada said on Sunday, saying that some 20 women are going to take part in the campaign in the kingdom’s Eastern Province.
“Many women are enthusiastic about learning to drive, or to teach other” women how to drive, she said, as many Saudi women have obtained abroad the driving licences they are denied in their homeland.
“There is not a single text in the Sharia Islamic law that prevents us (from driving). Any pretexts used to do that are based on inherited customs,” said the online petition.
“Just as revered women (at the time of the prophet) rode horses and camels, it is our right to drive cars — the mode of our modern age, unless you want us to go back to mules and horses,” the petition said.
The last day of defiance against the ban was on June, 17 2011, when few women answered a call to drive, with some stopped by police and forced to sign a pledge not to take to the wheel again.
“I can’t drive because of the pledge I signed,” said Najla Al Hariri, who took part in the protest in 2011, expressing strong support for the new campaign.
In addition to the driving ban, Saudi Arabia imposes other major restrictions on women, including a requirement to cover from head to toe when in public.
The 2011 call, which spread through Facebook and Twitter, was the largest mass action since November 1990, when 47 Saudi women were arrested and severely punished after demonstrating in cars.
The call comes just days after London-based Saudi newspaper Al Hayat reported that the kingdom’s religious police, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, had been instructed to stop pursuing female drivers.
“There is no law or specific text that allows the Commission to do it,” a source at the organisation was reported as saying.
“The arrest of women driving cars is within the powers and jurisdiction of the security authorities. The Commission applies the rules of the state and cannot go beyond them.”