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Revolution via Social Media is a recently set trend, especially in the Middle East. Inspired by it, women in Saudi Arabia have started the ‘Women to drive’ campaign in 2011. A 35 year old Saudi lady, Manal-al-Sharif, drove around the Eastern province in Dammam and posted the video on YouTube. In the video she highlighted the troubles females in Saudi Arabia face for transportation, and thought it was time to take an initiative and break this ridiculous custom. She was then arrested, and later made to sign a pledge to take no further part in a campaign to persuade the Saudi authorities to allow women to drive. So were the few other brave ladies, who followed her footsteps in other parts of the country. June 17, 2012 marks the one year anniversary, and Ashwag Alghamdi, a Saudi female now studying in USA, decided to get supporters all over the world to go and honk in front of Saudi Embassies and post the videos on YouTube.
Toonari Post (TP): When did you decide you need to do something to change the law about women driving in Saudi Arabia?
Ashwag Alghamdi (AA): For a long time we didn’t like this unfair ban. Our mothers in 1990 made a protest but they were shocked because the government and the religious clerks made many troubles for them and that affected their lives. I decided to join the Women2Drive campaign last May 2011. I just participated online like the others till they arrested Manal Alsharif and then I decided to make pages in English to spread her story and make the world hear about her till they released her. Then I decided to keep fighting till we get our rights starting with the right to drive.
TP: Despite Saudis being very strict about demonstrations and knowing the punishment may be lashes or imprisonment, how did you dare to take this initiative?
AA: It’s not a protest. We just asked and encouraged women in KSA to go out and drive to work, school and supermarket. It’s not a big issue but they got scared of us this time.
TP: Is Manal-al-sharif your inspiration? If not, how and why are your projects different from hers?
AA: Manal thanked me after they released her because my group and I, back then were one of the reasons behind releasing her in 9 days only. But after that she worked alone and we worked alone. I’m the admin of 3 English pages and my other friends are supervising the Arabic page that is dedicated to Saudi people. We don’t serve people or make idols, we serve the case.
TP: Have you ever driven around Saudi Arabia? If yes, how has it been? Do you think women can maneuver around such crazy drivers here, given that Saudi drivers are infamous for reckless driving and speeding?
AA: Yes I did. The last time I drove was June 17, 2012 in Jeddah since I’m back to Jeddah for a short family visit, and I posted the video on the wall. I’ve been always driving in Jeddah, in some resorts (Durrat Alarous) where women can drive and wear whatever they want. And I drove with my friend before dressed up as a male and that was very exciting. And about the dangerous roads, I think we’re ready now, since we have cameras at almost everywhere in our big cities, and women in desert communities and villages are used to driving for decades. I think it should be now or never. It’s our chance since we got the world’s attention.
TP: What do you hope to achieve via this new movement?
AA: We get the right of mobility, then we’ll get our other rights and be equal to men in this country.
TP: Recently a lot of revolution has been taking place in the Middle East with the help of Social Media. What are your views on this? Do you think your people will be able to make a change too?
AA: Yes I think so. If you observed KSA after 9/11, you’ll notice many changes and people are changing their minds, if there is any revolutions will happen in KSA, it’ll be a pinky revolution, women are making the change since 2011 and still.
TP: A lot of critics have commented that women driving is not the issue, the real problem arises when women are allowed out without a male guardian. They may undergo harassment and not be able to deal with problems in case a technical issue arises with the car, such as a flat tire or a dead battery. What are your views on this, and how do you think you will tackle such problems?
AA: Well, KSA still has no law against sexual harassment, they should make a law first because we get harassed in malls, streets and everywhere in here because guys are free to do whatever they want, there is no law. And women in the Arab gulf countries are driving in the same situation and nothing happened to them, they’re just scaring us so we’ll keep silent
TP: Recently an article was published stating ‘End of virginity’ if women drive, Saudi cleric warns’ and also including bizarre comments about increase in prostitution and homosexuality. What are your comments on this?
AA: That was the most absurd thing I’ve ever read. Believe me, many people in KSA laughed when they read it. He means that we’ll go out more than before and we’ll be free to date or whatever and I can tell you and tell him if any girl wanted to do so, she can do it with driving or without.
TP: Have any proof that you are not going against Shahriah?
AA: Women were riding camels and horses in the prophet’s time, it’s about transportation, if there was cars during the prophet’s time, he would allow women to drive, because he wouldn’t take it sexually like these people did.
TP: Do you have anything to say the numerous women who dream of driving freely in Saudi Arabia one day? And something for the critics of this dream?
AA: I just want to tell them, we will drive sooner or later, just get behind the wheels and buckle up and drive. And I feel it’s very soon, not because of his majesty, because we decided to get this right by force and I’m very proud of that.