Maybe he was shamed into it, but – whatever the reason – Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah has come to the rescue of a woman sentenced to receive ten ‘lashes’ for driving a car. The Wednesday announcement came without any official explanation as to why the intervention occurred.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world in which women are banned from driving. Not only Saudi women, but ALL women – including tourists and foreign dignitaries – are prohibited from getting behind the wheel.
Shaima Ghassaniya was found guilty on Tuesday, just two days after King Abdullah had promised to allow women to take part in that country’s election process, including running for office by 2015. He had also promised to appoint women to the current-all male Shura advisory council.
Activists in Saudi Arabia had been testing the ban in an attempt to get the restriction overturned. Technically, no law prohibits driving by women, but the ultraconservative Muslim nation is bound by religious edicts that keep women in medieval serf status.
Before Tuesday’s case, police simply issued warnings or detained the women drivers for a short time. The Tuesday ‘lashing’ sentence was intended to send a message to activists who are increasingly taking to the road in protest.
Women in Saudi Arabia are forced to rely on relatives for taxi service or hire personal drivers at the equivalent of $300 to 400 per month to chauffeur them to work and school – even to take their children to the doctor.