One of the lesser-noted tendrils of the Arab Spring, which kicked off in earnest in 2011 and has been all but declared over, is the ongoing movement to end the ban on female drivers in Saudi Arabia.
The decades-long ban, which technically stems from religious custom rather than an actual Saudi traffic law, also has a history of being challenged. In November 1990, with the region roiling from Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, a group of 47 women joined together in a convoy and cruised down a major street in Riyadh in a "drive-in" protest. One of the rationales for choosing the moment was that a national emergency required their male custodians to be elsewhere.
The women gained immediate fame for their protest, but as Katherine Zoepf writes, not the kind that would lend their cause protection: "The forty-seven women, still collectively known in the kingdom as 'the drivers,' were detained, fired from their jobs, and widely pilloried."
One person who remembers the backlash against "the drivers" is Manal al-Sharif. As she told The Wall Street Journal last year: "When I was a kid they sent brochures all around the country, with the names of the women and their house numbers, encouraging people to call them and tell them to come back to Islam. They said these women had sex with American troops. They said they took off their hijabs and burned them."