Saudi Women Defy Driving Ban On Roads and Online

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Social media has allowed the "Women2Drive" movement to organize and to spread the idea that women have a right to drive


The last time that Saudi women got behind the wheel en masse to protest the law forbidding them from driving, all they won were punitive work and travel restrictions and a tightening of the already severe law. But that was twenty years ago, and the world has changed significantly since then, even if Saudi Arabia has tried its best not to. Across the Arab world, activists are using social media to organize protests and to disseminate evidence of Arab governments' brutal crackdowns. Saudi women, not the helpless dummies their country often takes them for, are using those same tools and techniques to different ends.

The Democracy ReportToday, as Saudi women drive the Kingdom's city streets, they are using social media to broadcast their act and to encourage others to follow. On Twitter, they announce their intention to drive, sometimes even including the time and place, often encouraging mothers and sisters to do the same. They post photographs of their drives, both to demonstrate their civil disobedience and to normalize what can be a shocking sight in Saudi Arabia. Some are even posting YouTube videos of the drives, clips that are both banal and thrilling for their assertion of the slightest independence for women in a country where male permission is required to work, go to school, sometimes even visit the hospital.

The social media world has proven a fitting forum for what its activists call the "Women2Drive" movement, and not just because pro-democracy Arab uprisings are using the same services. The Saudi campaign began on May 20, when 32-year-old information technology consultant Manal al-Sharif posted a video to YouTube of her driving. She was soon arrested and spent a week in prison. Though it can be difficult for women to congregate freely in a society where they have no independent means of transportation, social media has given them the tools to organize today's mass driving demonstrations.

Above are a handful of the many photos of women driving today in Saudi Arabia. Below are a small selection of the videos and tweets that are a part of the same movement. Though there is no central physical location where the women can organize, no Tahrir Square, they are instead congregating online, on Twitter and Facebook, so far to remarkable effect.

I just drove to my friend's house! #Women2Drive توني واصلة بيت صاحبتي :)less than a minute ago via Echofon Favorite Retweet Reply


Proud of you mama for driving from Malik Road to a mall with families on the way and security guards at the gate starring. #Women2Driveless than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply


I'm out w/ my mom and she's driving her car right now, go mom I'm so proud of u #Women2driveless than a minute ago via UberSocial Favorite Retweet Reply


I just see women drive a Ford next to rajhi mosque ! #women2driveless than a minute ago via TweetDeck Favorite Retweet Reply


My wife, Maha, and I have just come from a 45-minute drive, she was the driver through Riyadh streets. #saudi #women2drive #WomenRightsless than a minute ago via Twitter for iPad Favorite Retweet Reply


My wife drove a car in Dahran today for a short distance towards a long journey to end the driving ban #Women2Drive #Saudi @W2Driveless than a minute ago via Twitter for iPhone Favorite Retweet Reply


#Women2drive isn't only on #june17 - it continues on after today, because it isn't a demonstration, it's just people living their lives.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet Reply





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Max Fisher is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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