Saudis in Audis

Published: October 12, 2011
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Saudi women can be trusted to vote, but not to put their cars in the right parking spot?

I came across an old Harry Enfield clip on Youtube the other day where a woman believes that because she knows about ‘embroidery and kittens’, she can handle a car. Incidentally she goes on to drive it in reverse, crash into a wall and the truth of life flashes across the screen, 

‘Women, for pity’s sake, don’t drive.’ 

Except in some parts of the world, it isn’t because our pretty little heads are not capable of operating cars. Apparently it is not compliant with the Saudi Arabian brand of Shariah law, hence a woman must be lashed if found ‘guilty’ of getting on the drivers’ seat.

Being a Muslim, I thought maybe the big guys in the country had read the fine print in the Holy Quran and there was something close in the book to ‘Thou shalt not allow your women to drive thy Audi’. Unfortunately, further research confirmed my worst fear. Believe it or not, because women will need to uncover their faces to see, you know, where the hell they’re going and because in case she has an accident she will have to interact with non-mehram males (i.e. not their brothers, fathers or husbands), it is a punishable offence. Even better was the idea that women behind the steering wheel will lead to road congestion and deprive young men of the opportunity to drive.

These reasons are probably the most blatant slap on the face of all the progress and civility we claim to have garnered over the past centuries. They are neither religious nor sensible and I take deep offence to them both as a woman and as a Muslim. And I’m sure the indignation I feel is a remote representation of women like Shaima Jastaina who dared to not be an idiot, and came out on the streets and drove. Even then, their method of protest was in no way outrageous (just ask the LSE Students’ Union -they’ve got the whole lie in front of a car, rip their shirts off thing down).

Running a Facebook group?

Driving, what, ten blocks?

Women all over the world do that every day even in the most conservative societies and none of them are in danger of being lashed ten times. And incidentally, doesn’t the punishment for driving involve interaction with non-mehram males? (God Almighty-we need to employ a woman there-oh wait, we don’t do that.)

What makes this system even more ridiculous is the idea that the Saudi Arabian government wants to ease this growing tension by allowing women the right to vote and participate in the municipal elections in 2015. Really? Women can be trusted to put a government in place but not their cars in the right parking spot? You’ll allow them to make a decision that impacts those ‘young men’ more profoundly than anything else but you won’t allow a few of them to share the road? This step should, of course, be commended because at least it’s a move in the right direction. But honestly, I’d place voting as a stronger violation of ‘the tradition of segregation’ than being forced to tell a male police officer why you missed a traffic light. But what do I know? I’m a woman.

To me, the idea of punishing these women at all (despite ‘pardoning’ the heinous crime of turning the ignition on) is particularly depressing considering what inspired these women to break tradition. Where people in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya came out on the streets to get rid of dictators, women in Saudi Arabia (with the support of their mehrams I’ll have you know) made the simple demand of the right to drive. During the Arab Spring, self-determination for nations was rewarded but not a drivers’ license because, obviously it’s so much more complicated letting chicks take the wheel than ousting Gaddhafi or Mubarak.

King Abdullah should continue to listen to the voice of reason in his head and campaigns like Women2drive should not back down, especially when the right to vote has been, in all unlikelihood, granted. Here’s hoping that the logic within men will follow, even though we all know they never ask for help with directions.

Rimmel.Mohydin

Rimmel Mohydin

A third year student of International Relations at the London School of Economics.

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