Shaima Jastaniah had become a symbol of Saudi Arabia's movement for female driving rights
An unidentified Saudi woman in Jeddah poses to illustrate driving a car / Reuters
Remember Shaima Jastaniah, the Saudi woman who made international headlines in September by being condemned to ten lashes for driving a car through the coastal city of Jeddah? King Abdallah pardoned her personally. But it now turns out that she may be lashed after all.
On Saturday, November 12, she was served with an official notice that, notwithstanding the royal pardon, she will be flogged unless she wins a legal appeal in mid-December. She has kept this private, hoping to resolve it quietly, until now. Her quiet options seemingly exhausted, Shaima called me and asked me to help tell her story. "I want to be able to drive, just like I did back in the States," she told me. "And I want other women to be able to do the same. It's a basic human right."
Her only offense was driving while female. In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, where women are not allowed behind the steering wheel, this is a serious breach of public order.
Although Shaima now lives in Jeddah, she had spent many years in Houston, Texas, where she became my student and friend. In 2000, at age 23, she arrived with her husband, who worked towards a license in accounting, and two young children. In 2007, she enrolled in the Master of Liberal Arts program at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, concentrating in international studies, because she wanted to understand the values, dynamics, and contradictions of Middle Eastern countries. I taught her in four courses and came to know her well.
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Shaima fit right into Houston society. Texans are larger than life, and so is she. Discard your images of the veiled female Arab: Her dedication to Islam is sincere -- she recently completed the hajj to Mecca -- but she is not demure and does not attempt to fade into the background. When she enters a room, you notice.