Thursday, February 5, 2015

Driving Developments

The women's driving movement in Saudi Arabia took a big hit recently with the imprisonment of two Saudi women who were arrested for driving.  Loujain al-Hathloul, 25, and Maysa al-Amoudi, 33, have both been held in Saudi jails since early December, longer than any other Saudi females who have been apprehended for defying the driving ban.


Loujain Hathloul

What is especially disconcerting about this case is that the women have been referred to a special Saudi court and may be charged with terrorism.  Although the women were initially detained for driving, the word is that the terrorism charges stem from voicing their opinions on Twitter about the driving movement, which is now seen as "terrorism" by the Saudi government. 

Saudi Arabia's Anti-Cyber Crime Law enacted in 2007 makes it a crime to call for reforms, criticize the government, or encourage social dissidents online.  Article 6, Section 1, states that one can be imprisoned for up to five years and fined up to three million riyals for the "production, preparation, transmission, or storage of material impinging on public order, religious values, public morals, and privacy, through the information network or computers."  It's easy to see how this all-encompassing, broadly-worded edict can be liberally applied to almost any situation the Saudi government chooses.

Maysa al-Amoudi

While Loujain and Maysa sit languishing in a Saudi prison for more than two months now, uncertain of their fates, a tragic driving incident happened this past week in Abha, a city in southwestern Saudi Arabia with a population of almost half a million people.  A ten-year-old Saudi boy got behind the wheel of a vehicle - as many unlicensed prepubescent boys here in Saudi Arabia commonly do - striking and killing a man who was crossing the street.  Little boys can be seen driving in Saudi Arabia every day, without repercussions.  I have often seen youngsters driving huge SUVs, chauffeuring around a gaggle of Saudi females who are forbidden to drive themselves. 

This incident crystallizes the absurdity of the women's driving issue here in Saudi Arabia.  Grown women are forbidden from driving and, if caught, face a multitude of punishments ranging from jail time and lashes to loss of employment and being banned from leaving the country for years.  And yet, unlicensed elementary aged school boys, who can't even see over the steering wheel, drive on the streets of Saudi Arabia every day while law enforcement officers turn their heads the other way.

So, who will be held accountable for this man's death?  Who gave the boy access to the car in the first place?  The boy's father?   If the father has "wasta" (connections high up in the government), he likely won't be charged or jailed. 

I have my doubts that justice will be served for the dead man.  First of all, he was not Saudi.  He was a poor expat worker from Sri Lanka.  Sadly his life is not valued much here in Saudi Arabia.  It is common knowledge that South Asian workers are often treated poorly and discriminated against by many Saudis.   If the tables were turned in this case, and the poor foreign worker was the one who drove the vehicle causing the death of the little Saudi boy, the man would be thrown in prison for life or might possibly even be given the death penalty. 

Photo by:  Areej Adel Albagshy

Saudi Arabia's Shariah law allows for the payment of "Blood Money."  This is called "diyya," and it is monetary payment for loss of life, bodily injury, or property damage to compensate the victim's heirs.  According to Shariah law, the amount of blood money paid varies greatly depending on the victim's religion, gender, and whether the death was intentional or accidental.  A Muslim's life is worth a lot more than a non-Muslim's, and a man's life is worth twice as much as a woman's.  This value system carries over into how people are treated in Saudi Arabia.

And finally, another slap in the face to Saudi women, this time by the country of Switzerland which has implemented a new law saying that all drivers in Switzerland must have a valid driver's license issued by their home country.  Since Saudi Arabia refuses to issue licenses to women, Saudi women who have a valid license from another country or who have an international driver's license are no longer allowed to drive in Switzerland.  In 2013, Kuwait - showing its solidarity with Saudi Arabia's patriarchal system - came up with a law refusing to issue driver's licenses to Saudi women unless they had the consent of their legal male guardian.

"Like" this Facebook community page - To keep abreast of developments in the case of Loujain and Maysa

Sign this petition on the Amnesty International page to show your support for Loujain and Maysa.

UPDATE:  I'm happy to report that Loujain and Maysa were released after spending 72 days in Saudi prisons. 
On March 1st, 2015, Loujain Al Hathloul was named as #3 on the list of The 100 Most Powerful Arab Women 2015 by ArabianBusiness.com

24 comments:

  1. The never ending saga.... These two women are brave and beautiful. I hope that they can get out of prison sooner than later. So sad, that in 2015 women can be treated this way while the rest of the world just watches. The leaders of SA don't seem to budge under any circumstances. As usual, I am amazed that you are able to stick it out there.

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    1. Hi Lori - I can't believe that they have held these two women in prison for so long and that they might be charged with "terrorism" of all things. *sigh*

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  2. Thanks for sharing, Susie. You lay out the absurdities very well. I'm so terribly sorry for the Sri Lankan man and his family.

    About the third paragraph of your post, concerning the cybercrime law... what do you think of that re: your blog? Any concerns?

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    1. I am merely reporting on the news and not calling for anyone to break the law. That being said, the lack of freedom of movement here for women continues to be one of the biggest obstacles I face every day. I would be lying if I said I wasn't concerned, but I truly believe that the Saudi government is far more concerned with those who write in Arabic as opposed to English because they reach a far wider audience within the country than someone like me.

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  3. As always I am outraged by this absurdity. But I too have concerns for you writing about it. Please be careful.

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    1. Hi Gaelyn - Thanks, I will. And it's great to hear from you.

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  4. I don't see where Switzerland requiring people to have a driver's license from their home country is a 'slap in the face' to anybody. Their country, their rules. If any person, Saudi or not, doesn't like the rules of another country, don't visit that place.

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    1. Really? Switzerland seems to have directly aimed this law at Saudi women since it is the only country in the world that refuses to issue driver's licenses to women. To me, that is a slap in the face to Saudi women. I am refused the right to drive here, and I am here not because Saudi Arabia is the number one place in the world that I have chosen to live, but because I am being the obedient wife and following my husband. It is his choice that we are living here, not mine. What do you want me to do? Live apart from my husband, or perhaps divorce him? This is not so easily explained by your simply saying, just don't visit that place. Many of us women are here because of their husbands. It's not like we chose to live here.

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    2. To clarify, Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that refuses to issue driver's license to women.

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    3. I was speaking only of the laws of Switzerland not of you or where you live. You are currently obeying the laws of the land in which you live and when in any country on earth people must obey the laws of the country in which they live or visit. That includes Switzerland. Again, if you don't like their laws there's plenty of other places to visit or live.

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    4. Yes, but Saudi Arabia does not issue driver's license to women, therefore the only people really affected by this law are Saudi women. The rest of the world, including Saudi men, have the ability to obtain the license that Switzerland now requires.

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  5. Switzerland's people need to get that law changed....but hopefully soon KSA's women won't need the Swiss law to be changed because THEIR laws will be changed.

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    1. Thank you, Kanumommy! I really hate it when someone says to go live somewhere else if I don't like it here. They have no idea about my circumstances. And even little changes could make this place SO much better than it is.

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    2. Lets hope the changes come soon. At least the young folks I know from there seem ready for them. I'm thinking plenty of the not-so-young as well. It's a different country, I know, but the students from Iran say that country is changing so fast " it's different every time we go home".

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  6. South Africa was an international pariah and there were sanctions against it when apartheid was in place. Deservedly so. The sad fact that the Swiss are supporting gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia through this regulation shows how low the status of women is in the world. For if we were truly considered equal, Saudi Arabia would face economic sanctions for its abuse of women.

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  7. I hope I am not posting this twice, the international drivers permit is not a license and it is supposed to be accompanied by your real driver's license. What Switzerland is doing is normal practice. Since the US doesn't have a national driver's license, what US.gov websites say is only advice but they say the same thing Switzerland does. http://www.usa.gov/Topics/Foreign-Visitors-Driving.shtml

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    1. But, Jerry, I know that practically anyone can get a valid driver's license in the USA, whether you are a US citizen or not. This doesn't seem to be what Switzerland is saying in their new policy.

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  8. I have never understood the " if you don't like the laws of your country there are plenty other places to visit or live". What? Most people on this planet are stuck in the place they are born. It's not like Saudi women , or anyone else,can just get up and immigrate someplace else en mass. That's why it's incumbent upon everyone to push for human and civil rights everywhere.

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  9. Susie, I’m a swiss citizen and I don’t know what you are talking about the Swiss driver license. Before talking and writing you should cite the source of your statement.

    I would say it’s probably the same in your country and most others in the world. An iInternational license must be accompanied by a valid driver license. Can you drive in the US with only an iInternational license ? I doubt it ?

    I travelled in the US several times, and I had to show the police during road check my Swiss license.

    I feel sorry for the Saudi women, but would they have the right to drive with only an iInternational license in you country ?

    The law says in my country that you have to get a swiss license after you have resided one year in the country and have a valid swiss domicile.

    Truly yours.

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    1. Hi Denis - Thank you for your comment. My gripe is that since Saudi women are not allowed to be issued driver's licenses here in Saudi Arabia, Switzerland is in fact denying Saudi women the right to drive in your country as well by specifically saying that foreign drivers there cannot drive unless they have a valid license issued by their HOME country. Saudi women are issued valid drivers' licenses in other countries, like other ME countries or the USA. Why shouldn't this suffice for Switzerland? It's like a Catch 22 situation for Saudi women in Switzerland.

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  10. Susie, I’m a swiss citizen and I don’t know what you are talking about the Swiss driver license. Before talking and writing you should cite the source of your statement.

    I would say it’s probably the same in your country and most others in the world. An iInternational license must be accompanied by a valid driver license. Can you drive in the US with only an iInternational license ? I doubt it ?

    I travelled in the US several times, and I had to show the police during road check my Swiss license.

    I feel sorry for the Saudi women, but would they have the right to drive with only an iInternational license in you country ?

    The law says in my country that you have to get a swiss license after you have resided one year in the country and have a valid swiss domicile.

    Truly yours.

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  11. Hello, Susie! Love your blog. Are you sure about the lax drivers license requirements in the States? I did a little research on USA.gov, and it just seems from the information there that one would need to have proof of residency in the States to get a license here, regardless of where one originates, and regardless of whether or not one is already licensed in home country. The only acception seems to be if you are here temporarily eg. on vacation or business travel, where in which to be on the safe side you should verify that you can drive with your foreign license in the state you are visiting. Even then it is recommended that you travel to the States with your international license, which the US does not provide to foreign visitors. One must obtain that from home country before travel to the States. It seems Saudi women who are non- US residents would still face a problem obtaining a license to drive in the States. I imagine a legal way around it would be to establish residency in the States, but then one wonders how that affects citizenship/residency of a Saudi eomsm at home.

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    1. Thanks, Anonymous. It's probably a complicated issue, but I personally do know of several Saudi women who have US driver's licenses. It probably varies from state to state, but I don't think it's too hard to get it.

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