Saudis in Audis

Published: October 12, 2011

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

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.

  • M Baloch

    “King Abdullah should continue to listen to the voice of reason in his head”
    True, the next day of announcing voting rights of women, courts announces lashes for driver woman & protesters in eastern provinces are killed & injured by SHURTAAS, voting right is applicable after 5 years in next election, if they held, women have no right to be candidate, till that let’s keep dreaming & prayng that King doesn’t change his mind in single night as there is no institution to challenge him…!Recommend

  • Abdul Ahad Ayub

    you don’t know what you’re talking about.Recommend

  • mango

    The funniest part was when i read this headline appearing all over the place> “Saudi King allows women to vote””!!
    Hellooo? voting allowed by a “King”?? …thats sooo dumb, not to mention ironically self contradicting…
    People..Saudi Arabia is a monarchy, even men cant vote there…
    and municipality elections??. i lived in that god forsaken place for a while…people dont even know where municipality office is!Recommend

  • pfaraz

    why is it okay for france to ban hijab in their country and not okay for saudis to ban women from driving..
    its their country let them do what they want to do

    next up what muslim countries don’t allow gay marriages – which is legal in west???Recommend

  • pfaraz

    and by any mean i am not endorsing ban on women driving…
    if u wnat to live in france follow their rules if u want to live in saudia follow thier rule simplesRecommend

  • Danish

    I live in Saudi and the King has said many times it has nothing to do with Shariah … its just their culture … things are changing in KSA fast and hopefully this will change soon too I’A.Recommend

  • Ziber


    Boy! how can you compare an obligation of Hijab with a necessity of Driving :PRecommend

  • Defence

    I wish these Saudis invest more money in stronging their Defence system, Airforce, Ground military force instead of spending money on these fantasy cars. Make more Saudis aware of Country strong leadership and empower Muslims as strongest nations on this planet. Saudis need to remember Muslim warriors such as Khalid-Ibn-Walid(PBUH) and Saladin Ayubi. Recommend

  • umar

    Ok! but they are not listening to youRecommend

  • seeker

    quite an intersting read

    but the point once again is let the saudis live the way they are living.

    one point i really dont understand is why saudi women never want to earn a good degree in any subject ? why they never crave to get a name in producing a good book, a good piece of art ,some work in calligraphy , for which they have such ample opportunuties and money to do.

    is driving the only thing left in the world where they can prove themselves, or what can release them from tensionsRecommend

  • Hyder Abbas

    Nice piece of writing dear sis. Many Islamic scholars all over the world have openly said this on diff forums, ” To stop a woman from doing something she is capable of is the greater sin.” Recommend

  • A

    Who cares? I have enough problems in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Dur Fitay..

    after this article, Women elsewhere shud thank Allah for the rights and authority they enjoy but take for granted ;)Recommend

  • Faith

    I’ve been living in the Kingdom for 20 years now. I’m all up for Women2Drive but I find it strange when people from Pakistan comment on the issues in Saudi Arabia.

    When developed countries of the east & west comment on such an issue, people pay attention. A Pakistani commenting on “What should be done in Saudi Arabia?” Really?

    We are no position to critique anyone. Lets get our own country out of the rock bottom first.Recommend

  •!/piraliraza Pir Ali Raza

    if a woman is allowed to ride her own camel then why not an audi. doesnt make sense to meRecommend

  • Bilal

    The best part of the essay was when the all-knowing Mr Abdul Ahad Ayooub steps in to tell you ‘You don’t know what your’e talking about.’ Mr Abdul certainly got a license of knowing-it-all-and-telling-you-that-you-don’t.Recommend

  • fromKSA

    With so much hype to this issue, i do support women should be allowed to drive in KSA,but to be honest..the way i see things over here,Saudi women aren’t that much innocent enough to be oppressed as they are portrayed in media,they hold more than 70% of businesses in KSA, which makes them financially independent, its just that they have MEN to do all their work. Saudi women doesn’t have the actual ‘Need’ to drive!. Majority doesn’t work outside, not even at home, they don’t go out to do home errands! they don’t go out to pick kids from school! they don’t have to go out to pay bills!. And the most important point to ponder THEY don’t even want take these responsibilities !. They have drivers n maids to carry out their orders. Otherwise in other parts of the world I KNOW the women WHO DRIVES HAVE TO DO ALL THE CHORES MENTION ABOVE…and Doesnt Drive for FUN ! but if Saudi women want to do it for fun…their fun should not be opposed!. Recommend

  • stop propaganda against islam

    Why do I Feel like ET has so much to say against Islam & Muslim. Y dont u ppl write on other issues. Much have been written on Blasphemy, Women rights in Islam, personal freedom, freedom of expression or whatever. Sick of reading on such issues now. Plz try to broaden ur horizon with more diverse source of information.Recommend

  • Nabs

    Its Porsche Cayenne, not Audi.Recommend

  • Amjad

    @Faith: I have been to both Saudia Arabia and Pakistan. Trust me my sisters and wife prefer Pakistan over Saudi Arabia any time. Saudis are the last to comment on any issue according to your logic then since more people would prefer to live in Pakistan over a repressive country like Saudi Arabia.Recommend

  • Danish

    @ Amjad – so who is forcing you to live in Saudi … come back to pak and enjoy the “freedom”, “security” and justice … pak the land where there is no “opression” ;)Recommend

  • Grace

    @Defence: Who cares about how much the Saudis spend on defense? It’s all worthless since we know that they are not able to fight let alone defend themselves without foreign mercenaries. As for opression and insecure, no matter how much the Saudis spend on weapons, they will be easily defeated by any invading nation since they have such weak institutions and a fractured oppressed society. I am sure if the women there stop feeding the men, they would just starve!Recommend

  • Amjad

    @Danish: No one is forcing me to live in Saudi and I have moved back. Just make sure you stay in Saudi and enjoy the lack of oppression there where you are a beloved “Rafique” doing all the great jobs that require your type of skills. I hope the women in your family enjoy the “freedom” and “security” of living there. I can tell you the women in my family, including my own mother prefer the freedom they enjoy in Pakistan over Saudi Arabia. Recommend

  • Sara Keinz

    First of all fantastic article, Hilarious yet thoughtful. Unfortunately I can’t say the same for several of the comments presented below. Specifically:

    The claim that a Pakistani has no right to criticize forms of oppression and anachronistic notions of sexual segregation in Saudi Arabia is perverse. I do not believe the author is in any way implying that Pakistan is some utopian society. After all the article is about Saudi Arabia, and hypocrisy, not a tourism bulletin for why you should choose Pakistan over Saudi Arabia. More importantly every country in this world (including) the ‘developed countries’ have issues of injustice and crazy rules. By this logic no one can criticize anyone since everyone should spend all there time just talking about what’s wrong in their own country. That would be awful as often outside criticism is necessary, and the more criticism of injustice the better. Also are you suggesting that no journalist in Pakistan talk about international affairs in a critical manner, ever. Furthermore just because the author is Pakistani (I believe so) doesn’t mean that her insights should be tainted by the injustices of the Pakistani government. Individuals and the states they happen to live in are not akin. Unless the author consents to and supports gender inequality in Pakistan (seems unlikely considering the tone of this article) then a charge of hypocrisy should not be made, is unfair, childish, stupid, and detracts from the point of journalism, to cast a critical eye on the world, present information, perspectives, arguments and debate.

    Also as for the idea that people should stop defaming Islam, the author makes it clear she does not believe this law has religious groundings quite explicitly (paragraph 3). More importantly however issues such as the rights of women are quite fundamental (considering half the population are women) and are not trivial issues from whom focus should be detracted. Constant criticism foments change. Imagine if someone put forth the argument that in the sixties don’t write articles about how America treats it’s black citizens, it defamed America, (this is at stoppropogandaagainstislam guy). Also for this to be propaganda you must either believe that A) this is not true or 2) this is not an important issue. If the answer is A then read the Saudi penal code, if the answer is 2) then that’s just your opinion, and a ridiculous one. Try not driving a car for the rest of your life.

    Anyway five star article. Good to see some actually jovial sarcasm in a Pakistani opinion section for a change. Five stars Recommend

  • Salman Qureshi

    There is nothing wrong with commenting or speaking about what is going on in the world around us. It’s a well written article and she has touched on an important topic. The real point is that a simple thing like driving is made out to be such a big deal and the reasoning behind it is stone aged thinking. Women are equal, if not better, then men. It’s insecure men who continue to want such laws in place. I think it’s time to grow up, educate yourself, and broaden your horizons. It’s the 21st century. The world is sending people to the moon – we can’t even send a woman to the grocery store by herself. Sums up the situation!Recommend

  • Kanwal

    you got the voting part kind of wrong too. Because it’s a kingdom. Moreover, women in saudia can’t go through surgery or travel withour a “mehram”. slits wrists out of sheer hopelessness
    And it’s like you read my mind and wrote it all down. :DRecommend

  • Nero

    @pfaraz: I am replying to your post because you said something about gay rights. Let me make it very clear to you brother that you are right. Rights of everyone is important. One day everyone – women, gays, minorities WILL have their rights. The Mullahs will all their hatred would not be able to stop the rising tide of EQUALITY. Fairness and equality is everyone’s right and INSHALLAH Gay marriage would soon become a reality all over the world.Recommend

  • Loneliberal PK

    Nice article.
    But you’re overestimating the power of logic against archaic religious ideals. The Saudi rulers will not be swayed by reason, as hardened believers rarely are.

    This injustice will continue to build up in the Kingdom like a pressure cooker, that will culminate with in an angry woman’s stiletto buried in the King’s head, before a significant paradigm shift takes place.Recommend

  • Salman Latif

    Saudis have risen to the heights of wealth and influence whereas they still have peanuts for brains. It’s tragic when such illiterates rise to influence without the necessary tools to exercise that influence towards good ends.
    Saudi Arab, necessarily, is a male-dominant, suppressionist society, which does that on the name of religion. The fondest indulgences of these Arabs are to keep their women shut in their homes, have their ‘fun’ at Europe’s prime night clubs, then dole out a few million dollars to a few madressahs in Pakistan to compensate for their sins, these millions being used to breed terrorism and try to poke their nose in every important political matter around the world, such are the contingencies of being idle and rich. And such is the hypocrisy of this piety and the shallowness of their law! Recommend

  • Maria

    I don’t think that any same woman would choose to live in Saudi Arabia over Pakistan, unless she wants to be treated as a second class citizen. Things are bad enough in most Muslim countries including Pakistan but I would still prefer living in Pakistan as a woman with some respect than a woman in Saudi Arabia with no respect.Recommend

  • shareef

    change is needed and needed now here is to a better tomorrow.


  • juanmata

    Fantastic read! insightful, interesting, and definitely shouldRecommend

  • Balanced Prestige

    Thats how it comes to the question, What specie Saudian are considering their Women??
    I know as if Islam is
    nt grantled equality for a woman, still there are some logical reasons beyond it, still there should be some moralistic duties Women would play in the society. certainly like Writer saying “Thou shall ur Women dont drive Audies" iznt something written anywhere…!!
    Women would have been possessing 70% share in Businesses in Saudi Arabia,they might have been dealt with such prosperity and prestige, as if found on driveing seath will be lashed 10 times a day.They are being kept in houses or must say saudian palaces like a Farmi chicken, all time useless, just a Kids bareing mechines..
    For these hummiliations actally this Muslim world is suffering alot. Most of the cultures even countries are suppressing their Women except knowing Women are building blocks of any society, they have power of “Managing Without Power”, they can dethourn any Kingdom, because No-men in the world would see his women in oppressive situations…
    As if we muslims are wanting a healthy civilization, we must have to give due share of responsibilties and duties to the ladies as well.. As once had been said by someOne: “Give me good mothers, and i will give U a good nation”Recommend

  • Fawad

    S-audis. Only difference is of S. Saudis native car are audis.Recommend

  • rimmel

    As for oppression and insecure, no matter how much the Saudis spend on weapons, they will be easily defeated by any invading nation since they have such weak institutions and a fractured oppressed society. That is very nice blog.Recommend

  • Fawad

    If any white or black guy buy Audis there is no article. So why you are picking on Muslims. If I can afford to buy Audi regardless what people say about me. Saudi’s are passionate about all cars not just Audis.Recommend

  • Pari Jaan

    Another great point for the “King” of Saudia…In Islam there is noooo such thing as a Monarchy! The Islamic political system is as democratic as it gets for those of us Muslims who know that…The Islamic political system is definitely more democratic and free then good ol’ Americas, yep, thats truth, no lies! Tell the King of Saudia Arabia that to shut him up…. It’s people like this guy, and government’s like his that give Muslim’s such bad names…… Recommend