RIYADH: Saudi women demanding the right to drive said Sunday they would keep up their campaign a day after government warnings and a heavy police presence thwarted their call for many women to get behind the wheel.
Activists are asking Saudi women to go on driving in public and posting online photographs or films of themselves doing so, after putting dozens of such videos on YouTube in recent weeks.
A video posted online Sunday showed a woman in the black headscarf typically worn by Saudi women driving with her son to and from Kingdom Hospital in north Riyadh earlier in the day.
“The campaign continues, in order to normalize driving in our country, whose laws allow the practice of this right,” said a Tweet posted on the campaign’s Twitter feed.
The activists say no specific law in Saudi Arabia bans women from driving, although women cannot apply for driving licences.
Government officials say a ban is in effect because it accords with the wishes of the society in the conservative kingdom.
Activists posted 12 films on YouTube said to be of women driving Saturday, and said some other women had also driven but without recording their exploits on video or in photographs.
Those who did drive were defying government admonitions backed up by a hefty police presence in the capital Riyadh.
Interior Ministry employees had also contacted the leaders of the campaign individually to tell them not to drive Saturday.
“Yesterday there were lots of police cars so I didn’t take the risk. I only took the wheel for a few minutes. Today I drove and nobody stopped me. For sure I will drive every day doing my normal tasks,” Azza al-Shamasi, the woman who filmed herself driving to the hospital Sunday, told Reuters.
In Riyadh, police erected impromptu roadblocks Saturday and peered through car windows to ensure women were not driving.
Many traffic patrols were also in evidence as the authorities tried to foil any defiance of the men-only road rules.
At least 16 Saudi women received fines for taking the wheel, police said.
“Police stopped six women driving in Riyadh, and fined them 300 riyals ($80) each,” said the capital’s police deputy spokesman, Col. Fawaz al-Miman.
Each of the women, along with her male guardian – who could be a father, husband, brother, uncle, or grandson – had to “sign a pledge to respect the kingdom’s laws,” Miman told AFP.
In Jeddah, police also fined two women for driving, according to the Red Sea city’s police spokesman, Nawaf al-Bouq.
Saudi newspapers, meanwhile, reported that six women were stopped by police in Eastern Province, and at least two others were stopped in other parts of the kingdom.
In Jeddah, Samia al-Moslimany, a half-Egyptian half-American woman married to a Saudi for 27 years, said she drove in the kingdom’s second city earlier in the evening, while several cars followed with young men waving at her.
Minutes after she relinquish the wheel to her driver, police surrounded her car and took her into detention, Moslimany said.
Saudi Arabia is the only country on earth to bar women from driving.
It also forbids them from traveling abroad, opening a bank account or working without permission from a male relative.
Last week some ultra-conservative sheikhs staged a protest outside the royal court against the campaign for women to drive.
A YouTube film made by male Saudi comedians went viral Saturday, parodying the Bob Marley song “No Woman No Cry” as “No Woman No Drive,” to support the women’s driving campaign.
In the short film, comedian Hisham Fageeh sang, whistled and danced with lyrics that included “I remember when you used to sit in the family car but backseat … in this bright future you can’t forget your past, so put your car key away.”