RIYADH: A few women filmed themselves driving in Saudi cities yesterday, defying government warnings of arrest and prosecution to take part in a campaign against men-only road rules, activists said.
But some others stayed at home, put off by phone calls from men who said they were from the Interior Ministry, reported organisers of the demonstration against an effective ban on women drivers.
Police put up checkpoints in some parts of Riyadh, Reuters witnesses said, and there appeared to be more traffic patrols than usual in the streets of the capital — the latest sign of the sensitivity of the issue in the country.
“I know of several women who drove earlier today. We will post videos (online) later,” one of the campaign organisers told Reuters by phone. Five videos were published on the campaign’s YouTube feed and Twitter yesterday morning, dated October 26 and purporting to show women driving in Riyadh, the oasis region of Al Ahsa and the city of Jeddah. It was not possible to verify when they were filmed.
The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia has pushed some cautious reforms, expanding female education and employment. But he has also been careful not to open big rifts with conservative clerics. Mosques across Saudi Arabia broadcast sermons on Friday telling women to stay at home.
Protests are illegal in Saudi Arabia, and public demands for political or social change have traditionally been interpreted by the authorities as an unacceptable challenge to the ruling family’s authority, local analysts say.
However, organisers said their call for women to drive yesterday was not a political protest.