A Fast Car Following Rosa's Footsteps

Manal al-Sharif was arrested this weekend for driving around her neighborhood. She wasn't speeding, she didn't run a red light and she didn't break any laws. She was arrested for being a woman with the audacity to drive a car in Saudi Arabia.
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I love to drive. I love the freedom that comes with getting in my car and driving off to wherever I want to go. In my car, I feel like my options are limitless. Manal al-Sharif loves to drive too. But she was arrested this past weekend for driving around her neighborhood. She wasn't speeding, she didn't run a red light and she didn't even break any laws. Manal al-Sharif was arrested for being a woman with the audacity to drive a car in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government only discovered her illicit act when Manal posted a YouTube video of herself driving. Manal's video is the modern version of refusing to move to the back of the bus and I hope her act of defiance sparks a revolution. Most people don't realize that women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. And those who know think that there is a law specifically banning women from driving. This couldn't be further from the truth. The reason Manal and other Saudi women can't drive is a result of a fatwa, a non-binding religious order by a cleric, that bans women from driving. There is no government law that forbids women from driving. Even with senior members of the Saudi Royal Family, like Foreign Minister Prince Saudi al-Faisal, publicly calling for an end to a ban on women driving, nothing has changed. Soon after posting her video, Manal was reminded that dissent is quickly squashed in Saudi Arabia. After her arrest, the YouTube clip Manal posted immediately disappeared. Her Facebook page, which picked up 12,000 fans, also vanished. Repressive governments still can't understand that in this age, supporters can easily and quickly create mirror pages and videos across the world. They can't make Manal disappear. So, what options do Saudi women have for getting around? They can hire a driver or have a male relative drive them. That's it. Due to laws requiring the separation of men and in women in public, women are also denied to the option of using public transportation. When most people think of Saudi Arabia, they assume that everyone is wealthy and has a fleet of luxury vehicles. True, the standard of living is extremely high for some Saudi citizens. But three years ago, over 670,000 Saudi families were living in poverty. Imagine if you are a woman living in poverty, and you can afford neither driver nor car. Imagine that public transportation is closed to you. What options do you have? You have no options. You are a prisoner in your own home. Manal is undeterred in her mission. She and her friends are organizing a day of protest this June 17th. They will not be marching in the streets. Instead, they plan to do what many Saudi women are desperate to do: drive their cars. Then, just like Manal, they are going to post videos of themselves driving on YouTube. Like Rosa Parks, these protestors are not clouding their civil disobedience with other issues. Simplicity is always the key. The women who plan to drive in protest on June 17th have been asked to obey all driving laws and to adhere to safety by wearing their seat belts. Protest organizers want these women to do what they do every day and nothing else, but instead of being driven by a man, women will be driving themselves. It will be a day rich in symbolism. I've always been amazed by the kinds of protests adopted by civil rights leaders who believed in peaceful resistance. Rosa Parks is a perfect example. Let's not forget, she started a movement by refusing to move 15 feet to the back of the bus. In our complicated world, we forget how such a simple act like driving can still spark a revolution. A woman driving alone to do what she does every day. She knows where she's going and she's going there under her terms. Her own terms. Some Saudi women disagree with Manal's protest. They think pushing for the right to vote or work should be the first priority. These women see her protest as pulling back some of their progress. But how can Saudis expect a woman to enjoy her job or vote with confidence when she must rely on a man to drive her everywhere? Click here to "Like" the June 17th Facebook fan page. Let's remind Manal she is not driving alone and let's also remind the Saudi government that we refuse to allow her to be silenced. If Manal gets to drive on June 17th, I don't expect her to do much. She will open her car door, buckle her seat belt and shift her car into drive. I hope she never looks back.

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