Good job, King Abdullah! But you need to do more

Published: September 30, 2011

King Abdullah has revoked a sentence of 10 lashes imposed on a woman for breaking the ban on women driving. PHOTO: AFP

Last Ramazan I was in Saudi Arabia, mainly for the purpose of performing Umrah. However, I spent most time of my time in Riyadh with my sister. My trip was far from enjoyable, as being a driver myself, I was often agitated at my dependence on my brother-in-law. I constantly found myself waiting for him in order to get to malls and any other place that I wanted to visit. I felt so handicapped because I wasn’t allowed to drive.

My sister, who used to drive frequently when she was settled in Dubai,  found it difficult to get used to the fact that women are not allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia. She would often remark ruefully:

“They don’t mind their women travelling with na mahram cabbies but they do mind if they drive on their own.”

Yesterday, when I read the news that the Saudi king Abdullah had sentenced Sheima Jastaniah, a Saudi local, to lashing on account of driving, I was saddened and outraged at the same time. I, thus, decided to blog against this unjust punishment.

By the morning, I had almost finished my blog and was ready to submit it. However, all my efforts went to waste when I read today’s paper. I was absolutely stumped to see that the sentence had been revoked.

I think this was a very wise and diplomatic move on behalf of the Saudi  King Abdullah. To read the news that a woman has been spared lashing for driving in the 21st century was both pleasant and depressing at the same time.

The ban on driving for women is still not digestible for many in the kingdom and surprisingly, it’s not just the women who are incensed with the ban. Many husbands are also supporting their wives in the online cause called Women2Drive.

Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel tweeted:

“Thank God, the lashing of Shaima is cancelled.Thanks to our beloved King. I’m sure all Saudi women will be so happy,I know I am.”

Saudi Arabia ― over the past years ― has been quite adamant in its law enforcement and although the King allowed women to cast votes and stand in elections, the kingdom still has a long way to go before it can prove equality for both men and women.

However, it should not be overlooked that the process of elections in Saudi Arabia are mostly useless – the majority of  seats are selected by the royalty in any case.

In the wake of Arab Spring and the tumult that the Arab world has witnessed as the activists made efforts to vein democracy and bring down monarchy from the region, the Saudis are reworking their policies to be pliable for the masses ― which is also obvious by the King’s decision of allowing women to cast votes and stand in elections.

With the governments of Egypt, Yemen and Libya already overthrown, while Bahrain and Syria are hanging by a thread, Saudis should realise that this predicament might gain momentum and be strong enough to result in its downfall as well.

A mere movement that was initiated on the social networking websites forced Saudis to revoke the sentence, and if continued, who is to say, the Saudis might as well revoke the ban and Saudi Arabia can become a better place for women to live in.


Sidrah Moiz Khan

The author is a sub-editor at The Express Tribune.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Taimur Arbab

    i await the day when King ‘MIghty Zinger Burger’ finds sometime out to read “Rights of Man” by Thomas Paine…:) or for that matter, the contemporary Shah of Irn biography…Recommend

  • Abdullah Abdullah

    Let’s be clear. Saudi Govt got nothing to do with Islam. This family came into power as illegitimate child of the British raj and later adopted and supported by US.

    The farce of US support for Human rights end in the gulf states where these brutal regimes are supported and sustained by US and WestRecommend

  • Abdul-Mughis Rana, Lahore.

    @ Abdullah or abdul-satan?
    Remember! When in your grave question of your deeds wud be asked!Recommend

  • Karachi Wala

    Who gives us the moral right to judge anyone. We belong to the country with one of the highest honor killings…. I think it is sickening to even pass judgement. Fix your medieval practices and then write articles on how the world should actRecommend

  • narayana murthy

    The right to vote for women is only for local bodies and not for the senate.

    The author should have known this. So, the king has don’t anything, in essence.Recommend

  • india….

    the situation in saudi arabia is bad. But the situation in pakistan is only slightly better. There was a post a few days back on ET about women not riding motorbikes in pakistan. Why don’t you protest against that. What’s the harm in a woman riding a bike ? You are allowed to drive a car but riding a bike is a no – no. What kind of logic is that ?Recommend

  • Sidrah Moiz Khan


    If you have read the blog Why can’t women ride motorbikes?, then you would know that there is no such law in Pakistan that stops women from riding bikes, but they don’t do it because it’s probably not accepted in our culture. However, many women go against the odds and do ride bikes. Hope that answers your question.Recommend

  • syed

    Another great articleRecommend

  • jingoist

    King Abdullah Roxxx =P

    I liked that!Recommend

  • india….

    @Sidrah – yes, that is the post i read. i know there is no law in pakistan that stops women from riding but the society still judges you if you do right ? In my eyes,that is as bad as women not being allowed by law to drive cars in saudi arabia. I think pakistani women need to fight against such crazy norms about what is acceptable and what is not. If someone judged me for riding a bike, i would revolt and HOW. I’ve been riding a bike for 14 years now. i rode one during my student days and now i ride to work. I read your previous article as well sidrah. The one about women driving cars. i don’t recall the exact title. Did you read the comments posted by pakistani men below your write up ? They were shocking and that is an understatement. All i am saying is that pakistani women have a long battle ahead of them. Fight it well.
    P.S. – please dont mis-interpret this as an indian ranting against pakistan. That is not my intention. Believe me, i have better things to do. All i am saying is speak up and fight against all the injustices that take place in your country. I can’t bear to read about these things, i can’t begin to imagine how people actually live through it. I wish you well !!Recommend

  • Tipu

    You have time to right if some one is barred from driving thousands of miles away but alas no time for those women who have lost their homes and children in flood waters.Shame Recommend

  • M Baloch

    Oh yes, he is great person, killing only a bunch of right demanding terrorists in Qatif & other Shia provinces, sending army to Bahrain & saying “any call of reform” ll be handled with strict arms, the great king…!Recommend

  • anonymous

    His hypocrisy is clear for all to see when the Saudi troops oppress people in Yemen and Bahrain and he tries to paint himself as some great reformer. The al-Sauds came to power as an illegitimate government and it shall wither and die like all illegitimate governments.Recommend

  • Loneliberal PK

    Evidently, oil money doesn’t buy you common sense. Even though it’s a relief to know that the poor woman won’t be punished, there’s still too much to be done before Saudi Arabia falls into the category of nations I refer to as “civilized”. I’m sorry if that sounds harsh, but my morals compel me to say that about any country that treats its women and religious minorities this way.Recommend

  • Adeel Ahmad

    @author: Don’t you have enough people to criticze in your country rather than fingering in other people’s business (I assume that you’re a Pakistani).Recommend

  • Parvez

    Be carefull !! the King may just decide that women driving in Pakistan is wrong and it should be stopped —- then what will you do ?? and don’t tell me his proxy does not work in Pakistan.
    On a more serious note I feel the Saudi authorities are relaxing things, though slowly.Recommend

  • bigsaf

    Good job, King Abdullah?!

    Why is it there’s such praise for a dictatorial tyrant that helped export their toxic and militant Wahhabi extremists to Pakistani shores and elsewhere globally?

    Who have shown racist disdain for their poorer foreign expatriates, such as Pakistani labourers, as well as their native children who’ll never get equal rights?

    Who live in filthy rich opulence while you see beggars on the streets of the holy cities?

    Whose systematically wiping out historic Muslim and Islamic landmarks due to their extreme austere ideology, yet at the same time profiting from razing those sacred sites for their Las Vegas projects? (imagine our outrage if the Americans were doing this…but I guess since it’s our Saudi Gulf oil money Masters, un-Islamic injustice is all good…!)

    Who brutally crushed, with prejudice, democratic and sectarian opposition and their families in their oil-rich province and sent in troops to do the same in Bahrain and Yemen?

    It is a big deal for women’s rights for women to drive (how regressive was that?!), and should be celebrated.

    However, I would realize it being a small political gesture to ease pressure on themselves and just something of common sense, and therefore wouldn’t be praising the dictator in the headline.

    The Arab Spring must go on! Out with the House of Saud idols and their Wahabi clerics.

    It sickens me when other Pakistanis give them a pass and pander to them, and even worse, some who claim them as their ‘models’ and want to transform Pakistan into a dictatorial ruled Wahhabi state. Recommend

  • Faith

    While I totally agree that women should be allowed to drive in the 21st century, but comparing Egypt, Libya, Yemen or Syria to Saudi Arabia is very naive of you.

    The countries hit by Arab Spring had joblessness, economic woes, inflation to name a few. Saudi Arabia has none of these. The only reason their was Arab Spring in Bahrain was due to Sunni minority ruling Shia majority.

    In Qatar, a jobless Qatari citizen earns 6000 Qatari Riyals, free medical & free education for his children. They are prioritized for every job. Why would they oppose a monarchy that provides them with EVERYTHING they could ask for & then some.

    Every Saudi graduate is given King Abdullah Scholarship on a platter to pursue studies for free in any country of their choice. In the wake of Arab Spring, King has taken drastic measures for his citizens.

    I’ve been living in Riyadh for the past 22 years but I do not like Saudi Arabia one bit due to arrogant nature of Saudis and inequality bias towards expatriates that are not western, but I know ONE thing for sure. Pakistan post 9/11 is a country where human rights are even more abused when compared to Saudis.

    So lets not judge others and start reforming our own backyard first.Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli

    You guys should read a book name Prophets and Princes it is very intresting and all about saudi arabian histoey some places are little biased but u know writer is american
    but over all good.Recommend

  • Hassan

    lol. why do the author think just banning women from driving will bring a revolution in such a peaceful country????/ The reason why saudi arabia reacted to yemen and bahrain because Iran was trying relentlessly to destabilize these countries by funding Shia insurgents. Sorry bigsaf, your post is biased and written from sectarian angle.Recommend

  • bigsaf


    The reason why saudi arabia reacted to yemen and bahrain because Iran was trying relentlessly to destabilize these countries by funding Shia insurgents. Sorry bigsaf, your post is biased and written from sectarian angle.

    It’s true I wrote one of my points from a sectarian angle, however these weren’t biased opinions, but based on credible facts and intimate knowledge of sectarian bigotry and regional politics. But I’m glad you brought it up.

    Unfortunately some Pakistanis seem to have confused conspiracy with truth as well as whitewashing obvious prejudice. You also neglected simple facts in regards to expatriates, women, economic reality and other non-sectarian points I made. But of course you zeroed in on simply this fallacy as an argumentum ad hominem, in defense of the Wahhabi inspired Saudi leadership who indeed have a documented history of anti-Shia sentiments and actions, bordering on discrimination, abuse and beyond.

    Insurgency? Relentlessly? Besides the Bahrain backdrop of a majority Shia population ruled over by a minority Sunni monarchy, the peaceful protests were inspired by the Arab Spring which was successfully kicked off by Tunisia, and affected Egypt (Saudis weren’t happy seeing their good friend Hosni go) and Libya and and Yemen even Syria. Did you Forget those? Or are they all violent Shia insurgencies as well?

    To claim it was an ‘Iranian insurgency’ is disingenuous and the actual sectarian prejudice here which was successfully exploited by the Khalifas. Not surprisingly some right-wing US commentators would also grab onto this false assertion to which human rights organizations, journalists (who by the way were chucked out..wonder why?) and other political experts would correctly dismiss as there was no such proof…but that didn’t stop the authorities in locking away innocent medical staff in their trumped up deluded conspiracy charges.

    For all of Iran’s meddling in the ME, there was nothing manufactured about the demographics and reality of apartheid and discrimination on the Bahraini island and the popular protests. It is incredible that 2000 Saudi troops invasion are tolerated simply based on unsubstantiated regional paranoia and prejudice. However credit must be given to the US for at least condemning it a couple of times, despite Bahrain being an ally and housing their fleet.

    Might as well claim that the Syrian uprising, with a mostly Sunni population, is an insurgency supported by Saudi Arabia or the US as the Alewite Assad regime claims. Which is ridiculous, but something the Syrian government has learned from Bahrain on exploiting sectarian fears. They’ve also got the minority Christians and elitist Sunni in government to boost their fake claim. At least Iran’s hypocrisy got exposed – revolution for everyone – except Syria and Iran.

    Yes, the Zaidis in North Yemen are indeed carrying out an insurgency, though not as bloody or ideologically violent as Al Qaeda in Iraq would surmount against the US and other Iraqi civilians. However, we are back to the same old sectarian and federal discrimination and marginalization as the reason for the insurgency, which does have support from Iran. However, the discriminate bombings by Yemen and Saudi Arabia on civilian homes and markets were absolutely horrid as independent groups and the victims can attest to.

    I don’t expect you to change your mind or believe any of this…I did however want to set the record straight…I’m being far from biased, or being unfairly critical or knee-jerk defensive and can back this up with credible and reliable sources, not opinion pieces. I have no problem with quality criticism. But fallacies such as these cannot fly. Would ask you Hassan to re-examine your own assumptions and motivations. Regards. Recommend

  • Nilo

    I agree women should be allowed to drive .. at the same time i would disagree . Specifically for Saudi, people around the world think its against humanity.But most of Saudis have big families,and if you allow women to drive along with men, Just imagine what would happen to traffic. If each family has 5 girls along wid at least 2 brothers and all having a car and coming out on streets,and then you know how insecure women are in Kingdom,so you would hear many kidnapping and accident news, again foreigners would be punished where as saudiz would get away.Recommend

  • Andrea

    @Karachi Wala: I think you need to ask yourself – as a woman would you rather be in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan. I think most women, myself included would choose Pakistan any day despite all of our challenges. As a woman in a male dominated society such as Pakistan, I can still drive, go to school / college and aspire to be anything I want- even to be the Prime Minister of this land. And whether you realise it or not, the Saudis are just those corrupt Arabs who were given a Kingdom by the British because they were best at back stabbing and killing their fellow Ottoman Muslim Turkish brethren.Recommend

  • sharik

    guys its looks totally absurd that a women driving a car i am totally against it……>>Recommend