A campaign calls on Saudi women to defy the country's de facto driving ban on Saturday
The Interior Ministry warns Saudi laws prohibit "activities disturbing the public peace"
A campaign supporter says the statement is not aimed at women planning to drive
Instead, she says, it is a warning to others planning to stage protests of their own
Saudi Arabia’s government made what may be its first official reaction to a campaign calling on Saudi women to defy the country’s de facto driving ban on Saturday, saying the kingdom’s “laws will be fully enforced” that day.
However, an influential supporter of the campaign said she believes the statement is not aimed at women who plan to drive, but at others who might consider that a good day to stage demonstrations of their own in a nation where protests are outlawed and gatherings are tightly controlled.
The Interior Ministry issued the statement Wednesday on SPA, Saudi Arabia’s official news agency.
Addressing what it called “rumors exchanged over social networks and some media outlets calling for congregations and marches,” the Interior Ministry said that “the laws of the Kingdom prohibit activities disturbing the public peace and opening venues to sedition.”
Saudi blogger and opinion writer Tamador Alyami, a supporter of the campaign who recently posted a video showing her driving in the city of Jedda, noted that a Twitter account supporting Saudi political prisoners recently “tweeted a message saying you have to take advantage of this day, that it’s an opportunity to go out there and demonstrate and ask for the rights of the political prisoners.”
“As soon as I read the Interior Ministry statement, I was sure the message was meant for them, not for those who will go out to drive,” she said, adding that women drivers will not be demonstrating that day.
No traffic law specifically prohibits women from driving in Saudi Arabia, but religious edicts there are often interpreted to mean women are not allowed to operate a vehicle.
In late September, an online movement was launched urging Saudi women to get behind the wheel. The October 26th Women’s Driving Campaign quickly gained momentum, with its online petition having so far garnered over 16,000 signatures.
In addition, numerous Saudi women have already taken to the streets – filming themselves driving through the streets of various cities, and then uploading those videos to YouTube.
The language of the Interior Ministry’s statement “shows that it wasn’t really about the 26th of October movement,” Alyami said. “They’ve known about this campaign for a few months and there’s been no attempt to stop (it). If they’ve let it go this far, that should reassure us.”
Indeed, many women who have been out driving report having been spotted by traffic police who haven’t stopped them.
Alyami said she drove her car again on Wednesday to her parents’ house and passed two traffic policemen.
“One of the traffic policemen saw me and didn’t stop me. I was scared, but when he just drove by and went away, I felt so happy, so reassured and more determined than ever to go out on the 26th.”