Agence France-Presse
Riyadh, 26 October
Saudi women scrapped a “drive-in” today and opted for an open-ended campaign after the authorities vowed to punish any of them who get behind the wheel in defiance of a ban.
Activists had originally taken to social media networks to call on women across the ultra-conservative Muslim kingdom to drive their cars today to challenge Saudi law.
But despite warnings from the authorities that action would be taken against any women who drive, at least two of them responded to the call and took the wheel early this morning.
“I have received videos from two women who drove so far today, one in Riyadh and one in Jeddah,” activist and blogger Eman al-Nafjian said.
One of the videos uploaded to YouTube shows a woman cloaked in black and wearing dark sunglasses driving a car in an area of the Saudi capital, apparently without being stopped.
The woman identified as May al-Sawyan could be seen steering the vehicle in what appeared to be the parking lot of a shopping mall, before driving onto a main road with little traffic.
The campaign dubbed “Women’s Driving is a Choice” has taken a back seat in the face of the warnings.
But activists say this is only temporarily, stressing their determination to overturn Saudi law is still strong.
“The authorities clearly do not want any gatherings on a specific date,” activist Maysaa al-Amudi said of the “drive-in”.
“We are trying to calm things down and affirm that the campaign will continue but without a specific date.”
Some women have said they received telephone calls from the interior ministry asking them to promise they will not drive today.
“Out of caution and respect for the interior ministry’s warnings… we are asking women not to drive… and to change the initiative from an 26 October campaign to an open driving campaign,” said activist Najla al-Hariri.
On Wednesday, the ministry said it would act against anyone who attempts to “disturb public peace” by congregating or marching “under the pretext of an alleged day of female driving”.
The next day ministry spokesman General Mansur al-Turki said: “It is known that women in Saudi are banned from driving and laws will be applied against violators and those who demonstrate in support” of this cause.
Activists say today was chosen as a “symbolic” date as part of efforts first launched more than a decade ago to press for the right of Saudi women to drive.