- Saudi cleric claims that driving affects "a woman's ovaries and that it pushes the pelvis upward"
- Religious leader was responding to a campaign encouraging women to defy the driving ban
- Women's rights activists, social media take soundly reject cleric's comments
- A petition calls for women in the kingdom to drive on October 26
A leading Saudi cleric warned women who drive cars could cause damage to their ovaries and pelvises and that they are at risk of having children born with "clinical problems."
Sheikh Saleh Al-Loheidan's widely derided remarks have gone viral as activists claim a website urging women to defy their country's driving ban has been blocked in Saudi Arabia.
"If a woman drives a car," Al-Loheidan told Saudi news website sabq.org in an interview, "it could have a negative physiological impact ... Medical studies show that it would automatically affect a woman's ovaries and that it pushes the pelvis upward."
Explained Al-Loheidan, "We find that for women who continuously drive cars, their children are born with varying degrees of clinical problems."
The controversial comments, published Friday, were widely interpreted throughout Saudi Arabia as an attempt to discourage women in the country from joining a popular online movement urging them to stage a demonstration by driving cars on October 26.
"This is his answer to the campaign," Saudi women's rights activist Aziza Yousef told CNN. "But it is an individual opinion. The clerical establishment is not behind this."
Added Yousef: "He's making a fool of himself. He shouldn't touch this field at all -- the medical field is not his field at all."
Mai Al-Swayan, who was one of the first Saudi women to sign the online petition, called the comments "ridiculous: " and added, "I am really disappointed. How could somebody ever make such a statement?"
Al-Loheidan's words have been ridiculed mercilessly via social media since they were first reported.
An Arabic Twitter hashtag called "#WomensDrivingAffectsOvariesAndPelvises" was quickly created to make fun of Al-Loheidan -- underscoring just how widely the call for Saudi women to defy the driving ban has resonated thus far.
And while numerous conservative voices have supported Al-Loheidan, many Saudis believe this was an extremely clumsy way of trying to counter the popularity of the October 26 campaign.
"I don't think it will harm the campaign -- on the contrary, it will make it stronger," said Saudi columnist and author Abdullah Al-Alami.
Since it published online over a week ago, a petition on the website www.oct26driving.com has garnered more than 12,000 signatures from those asking authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to lift a de facto ban than prohibits women from driving.
"There is no justification for the Saudi govern