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Saudi Arabia: Women Behind the Wheel

This post is part of our special coverage Global Development 2011.

Several Saudi women took the wheel yesterday to break the siege on driving in Saudi Arabia, where women are banned from driving cars. The campaign to drive was announced on Facebook, and fueled by conversations on other social media platforms, such as micro-blogging site Twitter.

Laila Sindi, from Jeddah, shares her experience in a series of tweets [ar].

She starts saying:

طبعا كان إعلان المكان والتوقيت مجرد تمويه.. لم نخرج الساعة ٥ فجرا ولا كنا في منطقة العوالي.. #women2drive

Of course, the announcement and place were just a decoy. We did not take off at 5am and were not in the Awali area

Instead, they left at 9am:

خرجنا الساعة ٩ صباحا وبدأنا القيادة من حي النزهة وكانت الخطة الاستمرار حتى شارع الستين ثم الخط الدائري إلى حي الخالدية والعودة #Woemn2Drive
We left at 9am and started driving from the Nuzha neighbourhood and the plan was to continue until the 60th Street and then take the circular road to the Khalidia neighbourhood before returning

Accompanied by her cousin and a friend, Laila drove. They all wore the head cover (Hijab) but had their faces showing.

The roads were clear, but not empty:

خرجنا فعلا في الساعة ٩ تماما وبهدوء خرجنا الى شارع النزهة.. وكانت الشوارع هادئة نسبيا لكنها لم تكن خالية ورآنا بعض الناس #women2drive
We left at 9am sharp and calmly left to the Nuhza Street.. the streets were relatively clear but they were not empty and some people saw us

Laila sums up the reactions of passers-by as follows:

منهم من لوح لنا بالتشجيع ومنهم من أشار لنا بالعودة.. لكن لم تأكلنا أي ذئاب.. #women2drive
Some of the people waved to us in encouragement while others gestured for us to return … but there were no wolves which ate us

Ten minutes into the drive, the unexpected happens:

في خلال ١٠ دقائق انتهينا من شارع الستين ووصلنا بداية الخط الدائري ولقينا نقطة تفتيش..رغم اننا تأكدنا مرارا من عدم وجود قطة هناك #women2drive
After 10 minutes, we completed the 60th Street and started on the beginning of the circular road. There we met a checkpoint despite checking so many times that there wouldn't be a checkpoint in that place

At the checkpoint, an officer and a soldier asked them to stop the car and step out of it. Laila explains:

نزلنا وطلب منا الملازم الركوب في سيارته وكانت من نوع الفورد.. ركبنا كلنا في المقعد الخلفي ولم يقل لنا شيئا لكن صادر حقائبنا #women2drive
We got down and the officer asked us to go into his car, which was a Ford. We all got into the back seat. He did not say anything to us but took our bags away

She adds:

طلب منا الهدوء بعد أن بدأنا بالجدال والنقاش بسبب أخد حقائبنا لكن أصر على أخذها ووعدنا خيرا #women2drive
He asked us to remain calm after we started arguing and discussing why he took away our bags from us but he insisted on keeping them and promised us the best

And continues:

لم يرد علينا أبدا في البداية.. بعد قيادة ٢٠ دقيقة تقريبا أوقف السيارة على جانب طريق الدائري ونزل منها وأغلق الأبواب وبدأ القلق #women2drive
He did not speak to us at all in the beginning and after 20 minutes of driving he stopped his car on the side of the circular road and got out of the car, locking us in. This is when we started to get worried

While outside, the soldier spoke on the phone:

نزل وتكلم بجواله ثم عاد وأخذ حقائبنا وخرجبدأ في تفتيشها خارج السيارة.. أعترف أنني بدأت أصرخ وأشتم وصديقتنا انهارت وتبكي #women2drive

He went down and spoke on his mobile phone, then came back, took our bags and started searching them outside the car. I admit that I started screaming and cursing and our friend broke down crying

About 15 minutes later, the soldier returned to the car, handing the girls back their bags, but keeping their mobile phones so that they don't record any footage or call their relatives.

Laila explains:

هددته بالفضيحة والمقاضاة فلم يرد وقالت له سناء بنت عمي أن والدها سيرفع دعوى فلم يرد وقاد السيارة الى طريق العابدية وقلقنا جدا #women2drive

I threatened him that I would create a scandal for him and take him to court. Sana, my cousin, told him that her father was a lawyer and would lodge a case against him but he did not respond. He drove the car to the Abidiya Road and we got really worried

She then continues:

وهو يقود السيارة قال لنا أن هدأتوا ستكون التمور بخير وطبعا لم نسكت ولم نتوقف عن التهديد وفجأة أوقف السيارة وصرخ: وربي انا معكم #women2drive
While driving the car, he told us to calm down and things will be fine. Of course, we did not remain calm nor stop our threatening. He suddenly stopped the car and yelled at us: “I swear to God I am on your side.”

And adds:

قال لنا أن شخصا ما رآنا وأبلغ عنا بالاتصال على رقم النجدة وبلغه النداء فوصل إلينا أولا واتفق مع الجندي على “تهريبنا” #women2drive
He told us that someone saw us and complained about us to the police. When they got the dispatch, he and the other soldier agreed to smuggle them

Laila tweets that the soldier said that he was there to help them.

وقال انه من “عيال مكة” وان لو قبض علينا راح يصير لنا شيء مو طيب ابدا فقرر يساعدنا.. طبعا ما صدقته واصريت اكلم والدي #women2drive

He told us he was from Mecca and that if he had arrested us, something bad would have happened to us, so he had decided to help us. I of course did not believe him and insisted on calling my father

She notes:

شرح لنا أن دوريته انتهت وأن رسميا هو والجندي ليسوا على رأس للعمل فهو في أمان لكن لو اتصلنا بلغنا احد سيتضرر #women2drive
He explained to us that his duty was over officially and that he and the solider were not on duty now and he was safe .. but if we called anyone, he would be in trouble

And continues:

قال ان الخيار بيدنا.. يرجعنا للسيارة ونتحمل مخاطرة البلاغ والبحث أو ننتظر في سيارته ساعتين ثم يرجعنا لبيوتنا #women2drive
He told us that the choice was in our hands.. he returns us to our car and we take responsibility of the complaint and search for us or wait in car for two hours until he returns us home

Laila says they decided to trust him and let them return them home.

The girls stayed in the back of the car for around two hours. Laila writes:

جلسنا محشورات في مقعد سيارته أكثر من ساعتين وما كلمنا أبدا.. بنت عمي تحتاج دوا ورفض اننا نخرج او انه يتركنا لجلب الدوا #women2drive
We remained stranded in his car for more than two hours, in which he did not even speak to us. My cousin needed some medicine which he refused that we leave the car to go and get it

and continues:

يعني هو قرر يحمينا من الحبس لكن من غير ما يسبب لنفسه ضرر او احراج.. وهذا شي متفهم طبعا #women2drive
This means that he decided to protect us from imprisonment without causing himself any danger or embarrassment, which is something we understand

After an hour, the soldier told them that he would return them home during the noon prayer, when the roads were empty. She explains:

وفعلا جلسنا في سيارته اكثر من ساعتين وبعد اقامة صلاة الجمعة بدا في السواقة في اتجاه بيت بنت عمي والجندي يسوق سيارتنا #women2drive

We stayed in his car for more than two hours and after the prayers started, he started driving in the direction of my uncle's house, with the soldier driving our car behind him

The officer turns out to be a good Samaritan.

طلبت رقم جواله عشان يشكره اهالينا فرفض وقال انا ما شفتكم ولا اعرفكم وانتو ما شفتوني ولا تعرفوني #women2drive
I asked him for his mobile number so that our families can thank him but he refused. He said that he did not see us and know us and that we did not see him or know him

The officer however kept their mobile phones:

وصلنا بيت عمي ونزلنا وشكرناه وراح هو والجندي وطبعا صادر الجوالات احتياطا واعتذر وقال انسوا جوالاتكم #women2drive

We got to my uncle's house and got out of the car and thank him and he and the soldier left. They took our mobiles away and apologised and asked us to forget about them

She concludes:

هذا مجمل اللي حصل وسامحوني على التويتات الكثيرة.. اعترف ان جسمي ما زال يتنافض من كثر القلق والفجعة #women2drive
This is a summary of what had happened so excuse me for the large number of tweets. I admit that my body is still shivering from the worry and horror

Many videos were uploaded on YouTube, showing women driving their cars in the Kingdom. Estimates show that between 20 to 50 women challenged the ban on driving and got behind the wheels. The news was relayed on social networks, where even husbands showed off their wives driving skills.

Aziza134 shares this video showing a woman driving:

On Storify, PaulTOwen shares this collection of Twitter reactions to women driving in Saudi here.

For more reactions on Twitter, follow the hash tag Women2Drive

This post is part of our special coverage Global Development 2011.

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