Right to Drive

What if I told you that it was illegal for Jews to drive in Canada? Or that African Americans couldn’t get driver licenses in California? Naturally, such laws would be utterly racist and in violation of a person’s right to free movement. Luckily for Canadians and Californians, no such law exists, and race, sex, and religion does not have an impact on one’s qualifications to drive. Unfortunately, this is not the case in one of the United States’s favorite allies in the Middle East: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

As you may know, it is illegal for women to drive in this oil-rich monarchy. Despite the fact that it is the only Muslim country with such a ban, conservative clerics believe the law follows Islamic principles regarding gender relations, specifically those suggesting that men should be the guardians of women. However, as Dr. Qanta Ahmed points out in this article the law could actually be seen as un-Islamic in addition to simply being discriminatory.

“Ironically, the ban is particularly problematic for an Islamic monarchy since it is fundamentally unIslamic. Muslim women lacking male relatives have been making solo pilgrimages to Mecca for centuries without restriction. Their journeys reflect Islam’s recognition of their rights as individuals.”

Dr. Ahmed, who practiced medicine in Saudi Arabia, goes on to point out the political origins of the ban, and how it is more an attempt to preserve male power than it is to defend a woman’s piety.

Fortunately, she is not the only woman who is speaking out against this outrageous law. Perhaps inspired by the Arab Spring, Saudi women organized a protest against the law, taking to the streets and getting behind the wheel.

"June 17, 2011: I will drive my car by myself"

These courageous women are playing a dangerous game in a country that does not take dissent lightly. Saudi Arabia has become one of the staunchest opponents of the Arab Spring, banning public protests and criticizing the region’s transition away from authoritarian regimes. Despite the risks, these women are fighting for their rights. Show your support on Facebook, and remember these women the next time you turn the ignition.

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