Manama: The brief detention of two Saudi women for driving a car in the northern area of the capital Riyadh has sparked a heated debate on microblogs and social media on their right to sit behind the steering wheel.
Aziza Al Yousuf, the driver, and Eman Al Nafjan, her companion, were arrested on Friday afternoon after they were spotted by a police patrol. They were taken to a police station where they were asked to sign a pledge not to drive again.
In her account on Twitter where she states that she does not believe in tribalism or sectarianism, Aziza posted that she was taken to the police station on Sahafa Avenue and that she left to go home two hours later, after signing the pledge. Aziza is well-known in Saudi Arabia as one of the most active campaigners championing the rights of women to drive in the kingdom.
She has often posted video clips of her driving, in one instance with her son, in Riyadh. Supporters used the brief detention to highlight the need to enact laws that would allow women to drive, insisting that it was their right.
“Saudi women have the right to drive,” a blogger, writing under the “Pen of Truth” moniker, said. “Driving is a right that should have been granted to Saudi women years ago.”
Imtinan, a blogger, said that the ban on women driving did not make real sense.
“How can we ban women from driving, but allow strangers to drive them around as their drivers or as taxi drivers? Women do face an issue when they need to go somewhere to work and there is no male relative to take them there,” she posted.
“They cannot after all spend a large amount of their salaries on taxis. Driving should be allowed as a rule and those who refuse it should simply ask their own relatives not to drive,” she said.
Another blogger dismissed the harassment allegation used not to allow women to drive. “What is wrong with women driving? The argument that they would be subject to harassment is not valid or acceptable because the strict application of the law means that women will be well protected. When we look at other Gulf countries and cities, we see that women are driving without problems.”
However, those who opposed allowing women to drive said that Aziza and other like-minded women should face legal action for breaking the law and disrupting the social status quo.
Shaher, a blogger, said that the pledge not to drive again would not deter women. “They keep breaking the law again and again,” Shaher wrote.
“This deterrent is not working as they are released shortly after they are detained as if nothing had happened. The lack of action means that they will break the law again and will drive. They need to be sent to prison so that they learn to respect the laws and rules of the country,” he said.
Khalid, another blogger, had similar views. “They had signed pledges before. They cannot be referred to as activists as they are not serving their country. They are rebelling against the state and are outlaws, not activists.”
For Fishing Fan, a social media user, Saudi women activists should focus on social issues instead. “Activists should work to promote social justice, help needy families and ameliorate learning conditions,” the blogger wrote.
“Our women are solely focused on being able to drive and to travel abroad without a male relative.”