Manal Essay

876 words - 4 pages

Manal Al-Sherif
The struggle is not about driving a car; it is about being in the driving seat of our destiny
-Oslo 2012 Václav Havel Prize Acceptance Speech
Late May 2011, a YouTube channel by the name of ksawomen2drive posted an eight minute video. The first day it was up it became the most viewed clip in Saudi Arabia, and became so popular it started trending worldwide. Any non-Arabic viewer might have been slightly baffled by its popularity. To them it would merely be a clip of a woman in a hijab driving while talking to her passenger, and a poorly filmed clip at that. The hundreds of thousands of Arabic viewers however, saw something all together quite different. They were witnessing a crime take place, an act of dissent. The video gained over 600 000 the few days it was up, but was taken down following the arrest of the driver shown in the clip. Manal al-Sharif was that driver.
The place of women in Saudi society is determined by a deeply conservative culture, vindicated by a narrow interpretation of religion, and enforced by law. That place it would appear is at home, subservient to and legally dependant on their male guardian. Saudi society suffers from pervasive segregation along gender lines and women's freedom of movement is impeded, forcing them to rely on male chaperons.
There is one place where Saudi women can escape marginalization; online. Twitter has of yet no separate site for either sex nor are women confined to their own account page on facebook , where they can have as many male friends as they like. As is case in all oppressive societies the internet has had a delightfully corrupting effect in Saudi Arabia, not only giving access to a global free flow of information, but also facilitating organization and dissent. The Women to drive movement, inspired by the Arab spring, called upon Saudi women to get behind the wheel in protest, organized on social media, and spread their message with the hashtag #women2drive.
Manal al-Sharif, at the time as an Internet Security Consultant for Saudi Aramco, was arrested on May 21. She was detained for five hours before being released, only to be arrested once more the following day. This time she spend nine day in prison on charges of disturbing public order and inciting public opinion. Her arrest only served to boost her profile and that of her movement. On June 17 2011 some fifty women drivers took to the roads in a number of cities, and though there were no major clashes with police one drive, Maha...

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