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Saudi Arabia and women driving…again - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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On Friday, The Washington Post published an article on women driving in Saudi Arabia. The writer began her article amazed that despite the extensive media coverage, and the great clamor surrounding the topic of women driving, the response from Saudi women has been minimal.

The writer says “This month’s driving protest by Saudi women, despite significant hype and international coverage, was a far cry from the massive demonstrations that have rocked other Arab countries this revolutionary season”. Is what she said anything new, or surprising? In fact, what is surprising is her amazement, and here the story begins…

The writer’s surprise at the lack of response from Saudi women, despite the media momentum, is no different from the surprise of many on the day of the so-called “Hanin Revolution”, which failed to materialize. The writer might even be more surprised to learn that the number of women driving their cars these days, despite the [impression portrayed by] new media in all its forms, is less than the number of those who drove their cars in Riyadh in the 1990s, in the days of the war to liberate Kuwait, when the fax machine was still a prominent feature! This observation, as well as others, should serve as an alarm bell for the traditional media, to consider the gravity of the new media’s impact, and the lack of impulse behind it. The clearest example here is the so-called “revolution of Qatar”, again at the time of incitement in Saudi Arabia, when the number of supporters on “Facebook” reached almost 36 thousand, yet nothing actually happened in the country, and it was merely a disruptive campaign.

Here I am not trying to justify preventing women from driving. On the 26th of May I wrote an article entitled: “Saudi Arabia: Don’t politicize the issue of women driving”, which was in support of women driving, but warned against politicizing the issue so it wouldn’t stall again as happened before, when it turned into a battle of trends in Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, it seems that this is what is happening now as the issue has been unfairly politicized. Therefore, many wise Saudi women have avoided getting involved. How can we not [say the issue has become politicized], when we read that ten thousand messages were sent calling for the U.S. Secretary of State to intervene, only to discover that the majority of those sending the messages were Americans, through American websites? Does this not exaggerate the situation? I say exaggerate because the issue is not an urgent priority at the moment, although it is a legitimate demand, and I approve of it, but there are more urgent issues for the women of Saudi Arabia. It is also an exaggeration because the way in which the issue was dealt with was wrong and distorted it, and alienated the wise who understand the priorities of our society and fear the consequences.

Thus the surprise of the American writer indicates a lack of knowledge of our society and its priorities. It also shows that new media is sometimes extremist in nature, and much of it is propaganda. Whereas the official media can be criticized for being excessively negative, the new media is excessive in fuelling or inflaming issues. There are many examples of this, especially from some Arab bloggers in Western newspapers. One online user, of Arab nationality, wrote on the website of a British newspaper, on the subject of women driving cars in Saudi Arabia, saying that my article, which I referred to above, was “apologetic”, and thus clearly ignoring what I wrote. What is the opinion of these people today?

Certainly, they are either amazed, like the American writer, or frustrated, and the reason is due to a lack of knowledge of our society, which some imagine is similar to theirs, and this is not true.

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed

Tariq Alhomayed is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Mr. Alhomyed has been a guest analyst and commentator on numerous news and current affair programs, and during his distinguished career has held numerous positions at Asharq Al-Awsat, amongst other newspapers. Notably, he was the first journalist to interview Osama Bin Ladin's mother. Mr. Alhomayed holds a bachelor's degree in media studies from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah. He is based in London.

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