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

Published: September 30, 2011
Email

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 I was absolutely stumped to see that the sentence had been revoked.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

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.