Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

No to women driving! | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Let’s suppose that the roughly 20,000 Saudis who are currently on scholarship in Britain returned home after a while, only to discover that the traffic regulations in their native country made driving more difficult for them, leading them to demand that the driving system be converted from right to left, along the lines of the British way. Would it be logical, reasonable, and acceptable for a few hundred of them to send a letter to the British Foreign Minister, in order to pressure the Saudi government to meet their demand?

In fact, this is what a group did in support of women driving in Saudi Arabia, when they suddenly moved from a state of absolute slumber to unreserved mobility. They took action in the belief that they were advocating their rights, yet they miserably fell down in the estimations of their own supporters, as well as others. They seemed to be overcoming barriers in a race that has no hurdles. Using an American website, they sent an email to the US Secretary of State in which they requested her to intervene and pressure the Saudi authorities to allow women to drive.

Regardless of the logical answer provided by the American Secretary of State, namely that this is a purely Saudi issue, and despite my conviction that the US or any other country would not stand by and watch if human rights were genuinely being violated, what I fail to understand or accept is that a group of people would seek assistance from the outside world in a quest for solutions for purely domestic issues. Can we, for example, call upon the American President to pressure our government to permit harsher penalties for going through a red light? Can we ask America to pressure France, which has banned the Niqab although 10 percent of its population is Muslim? In the Netherlands, certain drugs can be sold legally on the streets, whilst in England an odd law still remains which considers an upside down postal stamp – if it bears the picture of the queen or king – to be an act of treason. Citing these as examples, there are hundreds of local laws which may be deemed degrading or unfair, but can people seek help from the world’s superpower to pressure their governments to change local laws?

The issue of women driving should remain purely local, and Saudi women – if they genuinely desire to be granted the right – should strive very hard to obtain it. The issue has become so contentious that the media uproar has portrayed the matter larger than it is on the ground. In fact, there is no real indication that female driving has become a public demand. Why? Because those who claim to be activists – and it is amusing that they label themselves as such – tried to build the house from the outside in. For example, instead of sending these email messages to the US Secretary of State, why didn’t they collect 100,000 signatures and then send them to [Saudi] state officials? Wouldn’t this be a more reliable indicator that the demands are real? Aren’t there nearly 8 million Saudi women who have the right to drive? Why don’t they seek to mobilize themselves?

I wrote an article couple of weeks ago in support of women’s right to drive; yet trying to seek assistance from abroad will only take us back to square one. It is easy to provoke society, but it is difficult to restore confidence in the demand for women driving as long as there are still those who fail to understand how civil society institutions work. The decision to approve women driving would be welcomed if it stemmed from within the country, but not if it came through the American “extension” line.