Lady Drivers

Saudi women take the wheel


In May, 32-year-old Manal al-Sharif spent 10 days in a Saudi jail after she posted a video on the Internet that showed her driving a car. In subsequent weeks, a growing number of women have followed her example, defying Saudi authorities by driving.

Technically, there is no law in Saudi Arabia prohibiting women from driving. But religious rulings have kept ladies in the passenger seat—and subject to the whims and schedules of their male relatives—for decades. Those fatwas have often been enforced by the police.

As with other recent upheavals in the Middle East, social media have played a significant role in the driving rebellion, with women posting YouTube videos of themselves in the driver's seat—frequently filmed by sympathetic husbands—and tweeting about their experiences, often with the hashtag #women2drive.

The authorities initially were hesitant to crack down on the rebels, instead issuing traffic tickets for minor violations or ignoring the drivers altogether. More recently, five drivers were arrested in Jeddah in the summer, suggesting that the tide may be turning against the protesters. The last major challenge to the driving ban was more than 20 years ago, and the official response was much harsher: The women drivers were publicly excoriated and their passports were revoked.