Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A closer look at 10 arrested Saudi women's rights activists

Ava Batrawy reports for the Associated Press on May 22, 2018. A link to the story is here and the text is pasted in below.

Saudi Arabia's arrest of 10 women's rights advocates just weeks before the kingdom is set to lift the world's only ban on women driving is seen as the culmination of a steady crackdown on anyone perceived as a potential critic of the government.
The group includes women ranging in age from their 20s to their 70s who have pushed to lift the ban on women driving and for equal rights, as well as men who have supported them. State-linked media and rights advocates have circulated the names of those detained.
Here's a look at who the detained activists are and how they became icons of the women's rights movement in Saudi Arabia:
LOUJAIN AL-HATHLOUL
The activist in her late 20s is among the most outspoken women's rights activists in the kingdom. She was detained for more than 70 days after she attempted to livestream herself driving from neighboring United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia in 2014. She was detained by Saudi authorities as she attempted to cross the border and referred to an anti-terrorism court on charges of criticizing the government online. She was later released without trial. Activists say al-Hathloul was arrested again in June of last year in connection with her advocacy.
Activists say al-Hathloul was then stopped by authorities in Abu Dhabi, where she was residing, and transferred to Saudi Arabia earlier this year where she's been under a travel ban since March.
Al-Hathloul attended a humanitarian summit in Canada in 2016, where she was photographed in Vanity Fair magazine with former American actress Meghan Markle, who wed Prince Harry over the weekend.
AZIZA AL-YOUSEF
A retired professor at King Saud University, al-Yousef is a mother of five and a grandmother of eight. Although she hails from a conservative tribe with links to the royal family, she is among the most prominent women's rights activists in Saudi Arabia. In 2016, she delivered a petition signed by thousands to the royal court calling for an end to guardianship laws that give male relatives final say over a woman's ability to marry or travel abroad.
She has worked for years assisting women fleeing abusive marriages and homes. She also defied the kingdom's ban on women driving on several occasions.
"This is a good step forward for women's rights," al-Yousef told The Associated Press last year when the kingdom announced that women would be allowed to drive. However, she cautioned it was just "the first step in a lot of rights we are waiting for."
EMAN AL-NAFJAN
An assistant professor of linguistics and mother of four, including a toddler, al-Nafjan runs one of the first English blogs on Saudi Arabia. She describes the "Saudiwoman" blog as an effort to counter the many non-Saudis and non-Arabs "out there giving 'expert' opinions on life and culture" in the kingdom.
Al-Nafjan has protested the driving ban, including publicly driving in the capital, Riyadh, in 2013 as part of a campaign launched by women's rights activists. She has worked closely with al-Yousef and other women's rights activists to help domestic abuse victims and bring attention to repressive guardianship laws.
In recent years, she has been cautious about voicing her opinion on Twitter out of concern over a growing crackdown on rights advocates. She was among dozens of women who were warned by the royal court last year to stop speaking with the press or voicing opinions online.
MADEHA AL-AJROUSH
A psychotherapist in her mid-60s, al-Ajroush runs a private therapy practice in the capital, Riyadh, which specializes in gender orientation, according to activists. She helped initiate a nationwide program in Saudi Arabia to provide support for domestic abuse victims and train police and courts on how to receive and treat such victims.
A longtime advocate of women's rights, she took part in the kingdom's first driving protest in 1990 and subsequent campaigns to end the ban on women driving. She has faced years of harassment by authorities, including house raids, travel bans and being fired from her job.
Last year, al-Ajroush told the AP after women were promised the right to drive: "I had no idea it was going to take like 27 years, but anyway, we need to celebrate."
AISHA AL-MANA
Like al-Ajroush, the 70-year-old al-Mana took part in the kingdom's first driving protest in 1990, in which 47 women were arrested. She also took part in driving protests in 2011 and 2013.
She is director of Al-Mana General Hospitals and the Mohammad Al-Mana College of Health Sciences. She completed her bachelor's and master's degrees in the U.S. in sociology. In 1980, she became one of the first Saudi women to obtain a Ph.D., also in the U.S. from the University of Colorado.
In 2016, she established a scholarship program for Saudi women to study global health at her alma mater. She also established a $2 million endowment to support Saudi and Arab women at the American University of Beirut who are studying advanced degrees in nursing and health sciences.
Activists say she suffered a stroke last year and are concerned for her health while in detention.
IBRAHIM AL-MUDAIMIGH
Al-Mudaimigh is a lawyer who defended al-Hathloul during her detention in 2015 for attempting to cross the UAE-Saudi border while driving. He has supported human rights defenders in court and offered legal representation to activists in the kingdom.
He's also represented Waleed Abulkhair, a human rights lawyer now serving a 15-year sentence who'd represented Raif Badawi, a blogger who was publicly flogged in 2015 and is serving 10 years in prison.
Activists say al-Mudaimigh, who ran his own practice, was one of the few lawyers in Saudi Arabia willing to defend human rights activists since others have either fled or been detained.
HESSAH AL-SHEIKH
A longtime women's rights activist who took part in the kingdom's first driving protest in 1990, al-Sheikh is a professor at King Saud University and volunteers with Saudi-based charities focusing on women and children.
She hails from the prominent Al Sheikh family who are descendants of Sheikh Mohammed Ibn Abdul-Wahhab. His ultraconservative teachings of Islam in the 18th century are widely referred to as "Wahhabism" in his name.
She co-authored a 100-page study that was published this year by the Center for Women's Global Leadership in partnership with Rutgers University, examining Saudi women's advocacy since 1990. The study says questions remain over whether new policies will lead to real changes in how women's lives are governed in Saudi Arabia.
The study notes that international media exposure "can be a protective shield against severe punishment for active engagement in women's causes."
WALAA AL-SHUBBAR
Activists say al-Shubbar, in her late 20s, works as a nurse in the capital, Riyadh. She has been active in calling for an end to guardianship rules and appeared on Arabic news programs to discuss issues of patriarchy in the kingdom.
In an interview previously aired on France24, al-Shubbar is quoted as saying that in Saudi society "men are viewed as superior to women, and men are seen as capable of achieving anything and a woman is not."
MOHAMMED AL-RABAE
Al-Rabea is a writer and an activist in his 20s who has organized discussion groups about philosophy and social issues. He worked with some of the activists to push for greater women's rights.
ABDULAZIZ AL-MESHAAL
The Gulf Center for Human Rights describes al-Meshaal as a businessman and philanthropist who was listed as a board member in an application by activists to the government to establish a non-governmental organization called "Amina" to protect women survivors of domestic violence.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Women from the village waiting for the 10th of Shawwal

On May 19, 2018, the Saudi English language daily, the Saudi Gazette reported on village women in Saudi Arabia's southwestern region. You can link to the story here, and it's pasted in below. Rural women have learned to drive over the decades, but are glad to have it become officially legal. The date, the 10th of Shawwal, is June 24, 2018.

A number of women from the southern part of Saudi Arabia are waiting for the 10th of Shawwal when women will be allowed to drive.


NAJRAN — A number of women from the southern part of Saudi Arabia told Okaz that they are waiting for the 10th of the month of Shawwal when women will be allowed to drive.

That date will mark the end of the era of driving in fear and secrecy in rural areas and far away from the road. This time, they will be driving in city roads without any fear.

They told Okaz that they would be adhering to the rules and regulations of the road, and they even consider themselves strict followers of the rules than men.

A Saudi women, who did not mention her name, said that she has been driving from when she was 16 years old, but she only sat behind the wheel if the car was far away from the city and away from police eyes. When she became old, she was the only one who was able to drive.

She was transporting her parents to the hospital and health centers and to the social insurance department. Her younger children are also dependent on her to driverthem to school every day.

She said, “I am proud that I am driving the car and carrying out my duty toward my family. I feel proud when I am driving and serving my parents and helping my children to get their education.”

Another old woman who has been driving in a village south of Saudi Arabia, said, “Every time the traffic department stops me on the road I tell them who is going to transport my parents to the hospital or take me to the shopping center to buy groceries? Who is going to take care of our daily needs?”

She said that driving the car was a dream for women living in villages until the decision by the Custodian of the Two Holy mosques came. She said now women can take care of their daily needs.

Saudi Arabia women's driving activists 'targeted in smear campaign'

The BBC reports on a smear campaign against Saudi women driving activists who have been detained. Manal al-Sharif is interviewed in the story. Link to it here, and the story is pasted in below.

The woman behind the movement to allow women to drive in Saudi Arabia says she and her fellow activists in the kingdom are being targeted in a smear campaign.
Saudi native Manal al-Sharif said she has been receiving death threats online ahead of the ban's removal.
She was speaking after several activists in the kingdom were arrested.
They have been accused of being "traitors" and working with foreign powers - charges Amnesty International called "blatant intimidation tactics".
The group is accused of "contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country's stability and social fabric", the human rights group said.
Manal al-Sharif, who is currently living in Australia, said the "organised defamation campaign" targeting the activists was similar to the campaign that targeted the movement in 2011.
as similar to the campaign that targeted the movement in 2011.
The ban is due to be lifted on 24 June.

'Crackdown on dissent'

Seven people - men and women - were arrested earlier this week. They are believed to include Loujain al-Hathloul, a well-known figure in the campaign for women's driving rights.
Ms Hathloul has been detained previously, including once in 2014 when she attempted to drive across the border from the United Arab Emirates. She served 73 days at a juvenile detention centre as a result, and documented many of her experiences on Twitter.
Image copyright Jason Schmidt
Image caption Loujain al-Hathloul (far right) attended the One Young World Summit along with Prince Harry's now-wife Meghan Markle, Pakistani author Fatima Bhutto and former Irish President Mary Robinson (C) in 2016
Amnesty said it believes that women's rights activists Eman al-Nafjan, Aziz al-Yousef, Dr Aisha al-Manea, Dr Ibrahim al-Modeimigh, and Mohammad al-Rabea have also been arrested.
Saudi Arabia's laws require women to seek male permission for various decisions and actions, and that extends to the ban on women driving.
Previously, that meant that families had to hire private drivers to transport female relatives.
Influential Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has widely been credited with a range of social reforms in the traditionally conservative kingdom.
He was, however, singled out for criticism in a statement from Amnesty.
"Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman has presented himself as a 'reformer', but such promises fall flat amid the intensifying crackdown on dissenting voices in the kingdom," it said.
"His pledges amount to very little if those who fought for the right to drive are now all behind bars for peacefully campaigning for freedom of movement and equality."

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Saudi Arabia detains women's rights activists weeks before female driving ban comes to an end

On May 18, 2018 the Washington Post broke the story that activists supporting women driving in Saudi Arabia had been detained. This story from the UK's Telegraph has now published it to. A link to the story is here and the text is pasted below. 



Saudi Arabia has detained several prominent female activists who campaigned for women’s right to drive, taking them into custody just weeks before the decades-long driving ban finally comes to an end.
Human rights groups said Loujain al-Hathloul, Eman al-Nafjan and Aziza al-Yousef - three of the most prominent voices demanding women be free to drive - were all detained on Thursday. Two male advocates for women’s rights were also detained, activists said.
The activists were detained as Saudi Arabia prepares for the driving ban to come to an end on June 24. The policy shift has become a symbol of the modernising drive of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the Saudi government is eager for positive media coverage of the move. 

The detentions appear to be an effort by Saudi authorities to make sure they do not have to share credit for the end of the driving ban with activists who spent years campaigning for it.
They may also be concerned that the women right’s campaigners would use the end of the driving to call for further advances in women’s freedom - like an end to the male guardianship system that severely limits Saudi women’s ability to travel independently.


A woman in a black niqab drives in Saudi Arabia
A woman in a black niqab drives in Saudi Arabia
Neither Ms Narfjan nor Ms Hathloul could be reached for comment. Ms Hathloul told The Telegraph earlier this year that shortly before Saudi authorities announced the end of the driving ban in September she was warned not to speak publicly about it.
Instead, she Tweeted just the word “Alhamdulillah” in Arabic, or “Praise be to God”.
“Shutting up or submitting to these threats is unacceptable to me, it is not an option to stay quiet any more,” she said, breaking her silence in January. “We have been quiet for too long.”
Ms Hathloul had been detained twice before for her activism. She and other Saudi women sometimes filmed themselves driving in defiance of the ban and published the videos online, to the fury of the government.
Ms Hathloul was voted the third-most powerful Arab woman by Forbes in 2015, but was forced to quit her job that same year because of driving restrictions. Her husband, a well-known Saudi comedian who acts as her male guardian, was often out of the country meaning she had to pay for taxis to and from work.


Saudi women tour a car showroom for women on January 11, 2018, in the Saudi Red Sea port city of Jeddah.
Saudi women tour a car showroom for women on January 11, 2018, in the Saudi Red Sea port city of Jeddah. Credit: AFP
“The Uber and Careem applications would take more than 30 per cent of my salary. For instance I would pay 2,000-3,000 riyals (£375-560) a month to get around, while my salary was 6,000 riyals,” she said. “At the end of the month I basically had nothing.”
It was not clear if she or any or any of the other activists had been charged with a crime. Prisoners of Conscience, a human rights group, said that two men - Mohammed al-Rabjah and Ibrahim al-Mdmyegh - had also been arrested.
The driving ban has been in place since 1979 and women’s rights activists have been fighting it against for it for decades. In 1990, around 50 women launched the first high profile protest by driving in a convoy around Riyadh. They were eventually stopped by police.
The Saudi government under the leadership of Crown Prince Mohammed has shown itself willing to use detention as a tool against political rivals. Dozens of princes and prominent businessmen were arrested in November and detained at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Riyadh on allegations of corruption.
Most were released only after agreeing to pay large sums as part of a settlement with the authorities.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Saudi women drivers express hopes and fears as countdown begins

On May 17, 2018, al-Arabiyyah reports how Saudi women are reacting to and preparing for the upcoming change in the law regarding women driving. A link to the story is here, and the text is below.

The countdown has started in Saudi Arabia for women to sit behind the wheel, when females will be allowed to start driving in the kingdom starting from June 24.
While many Saudis are waiting to see this new scene on Saudi roads and which has been long awaited by women, many of whom are preparing for this day, while others are taking driving lessons in order to obtain driving licenses
A female driver in a training center in Saudi said a large number of applicants are ladies in their sixties compared to a trickle of applicants from among university students and teenagers. She said that’s because they rely more on their drivers and that some families would not prefer their daughters to drive at this young age. The situation is different with working females, as they prefer to be independent.
The trainer added that the older females become easily tired during the driving sessions, and they tend to fail the field tests.
When  Saudi women were asked about the first drive they will take on June 24 and what is their biggest fear, answers varied between taking a simple drive in the neighborhood, or to drive accompanied with family members or to drive to do some grocery shopping,  most of them agreed that meeting with an accident on the road was their biggest fear.
Sherin Bawzer, said that her first drive will be “to go to the supermarket” but she is scared of speedy drivers and from motorists who overtake from the right side. For Fatima al-Nisan it will be a family affair, who says: “On the first drive I will be accompanied by those who are close to me, whom I trust that they will be joining me in celebrating this day, while road curves and sudden breakdowns are very worrying and scary.”
Amani al-Salimi said she will drive to work on that day without waiting for the driver to pick her up, adding that she is terrified of traffic congestion and road accidents.
In a confident tone, Khulood al-Harithi says that the first time she will be behind the wheel she will take her family out and would tell them she does not need anyone with her anymore, but she is scared that a tree will fall on her or she will fall asleep while driving.
For her part, Khulood al-Ebrahim said she is mostly worried about motorists who do no respect the law, while Mariam al-Hasan is not fearful of anything and the first trip she will take will be just to wander around aimlessly.
Najat al-Majeed said shopping malls will be her focus when she starts driving, especially those around her home, and that she is scared of driving up hills, or of running out of petrol or a breakdown in remote areas which will put her in an embarrassing situation calling for help from others.
Mouna al-Qadri prefers to delay getting a driving license for a while and would watch the situation despite the fact that she is convinced that this experience is very good, but not necessarily she will take part in it.
Lubna Mohamed mentioned that women will be divided into two categories after driving lessons:  working females who will drive to their workplace and  “housewives” who can drive in emergency situations to hospitals, adding that she is “scared of breakdowns and flat tires. A situation will force me to order a cab and I do not like to be driven by a stranger.. also I am scared of running over animals..”
Fatima Outhman said her first drive will be with family and friends and she is scared of motorists who do not know driving laws, while Tahani Attif pointed out that her first time behind the wheel will be for grocery shopping while she fears narrow roads and accidents.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Meet ‘Captainah’ Enaam, Careem’s first female driver in Saudi Arabia

The May 16, 2018 Arab News reports the Careem (a ride service like Uber) has named and hired its first female driver. A link to the story is here and the text is below.


  • Enaam Gazi Al-Aswad was selected to become the first “captainah” — the female version of the Careem “captain,” as the firm calls its drivers
  • The 43-year-old learned how to drive in her native Syria
Careem, the Middle East’s ride-hailing firm, has named its first female driver in Saudi Arabia, as the Kingdom prepares to allow women behind the wheel from next month.
Enaam Gazi Al-Aswad was selected to become the first “captainah” — the female version of the Careem “captain,” as the firm calls its drivers — from among around 3,000 women looking for employment with the company. “When the authorities announced in September that women would be allowed to drive, I wanted to be the first and contacted Careem straight away,” Al-Aswad told Arab News at a media event in Dubai.
“It is wonderful to think that after all this time we will have the freedom to drive. It will help all of us build the future together in accordance with the Vision 2030 strategy.”
The 43-year-old divorcee learned how to drive in her native Syria, and has a driving license from that country. She expects to be able to obtain a Saudi license when she has completed 10 hours of driving tuition under the new laws.
“I already have my own car, a Kia I bought in 2013, and I hope to be able to do the 10 hours of lessons in a few days,” she said.
She has already received all the necessary training from Careem to enable her to become a “captainah,” having been hand-picked by the Dubai-based company soon after last year’s royal decree on women driving.
“It is good for women’s career enhancement, and for their social lives. But also I think it is our national duty. It is a job to do for the Kingdom,” she said.
Al-Aswad trained as an airline flight attendant in Saudi Arabia before studying management science at King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah, where she lives. She expects that being a Careem driver will be the stepping stone to a better life for her and her two sons.
“For a woman on her own, it is a good way to earn a living and pay the bills. My sons are excited and very supportive of me. Careem drivers earn good money, I know. I am telling lots of my female friends to think about it too. I would like to be a guide as well as a driver,” she said.
Mudassir Sheikha, the co-founder and CEO of Careem, said that he expected new business to eventually make up for any short-term fall-off in revenues when women — who previously formed a majority of the firm’s passengers in the Kingdom — are able to take to the roads themselves. About 95 percent of drivers in the Kingdom are Saudi nationals, he added.

Saudi women gear up to hit the road, test simulator

This article appeared in the May 15, 2018 Khaleej Times. You can link to the story here, and the text is below.

Women in Saudi Arabia are all gearing up for the red-letter day on June 24 when they will hit the road for the first time in a generation. The popularity of the ruling to allow women to drive was clear this week at the Riyadh International Convention and Exhibition Center from the scurry of activity at the venue of the Saudi capital's first women's exhibition for cars, dubbed 'Pinkish'.

The first day of the three-day show on May 13 drew curious visitors in droves, who carefully examined the many new vehicles on display, interacted with car dealers and insurance-company representatives, learnt about special offers and checked out car accessories. They also enthusiastically discussed with their relatives and companions which car would suit them best as they spent time on simulators to get a feel for the experience they expect to have in a few weeks when the Kingdom opens the way for them to take the wheel.

The organisers, who have braced themselves for at least 80,000 visitors over the course of the show, have arranged for special lessons for attendees on driving skills and how to choose the right car.

The event is organised with the support of General Directorate of Public Security, the administrative authorities of the Riyadh region, the Saudi General Department of Traffic Department, the General Entertainment Authority, the Ministry of Commerce and Investment and the Ministry of Culture and Information.

With the long-awaited start date for issuing driving licences to women in the Kingdom just around the corner, the General Department of Traffic's Director, Major General Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Bassami, has announced last week that all requirements for women in Saudi Arabia to start driving were in place.