03/11/2008, 00.00
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Saudi feminist drives car, defies ban

Law and fatwa claim that only man can drive. Driving has thus become the litmus test for the battle for equality. In past demonstrations women behind the wheel were arrested and condemned.

Riyadh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A Saudi woman courageously defies driving ban is how Arab media described the decision by Wajiha Huwaidar, an activist for women’s rights, to mark  this year's International Women's Day by posting a video of her act on YouTube.

The driving ban has become for Saudi women almost the red flag for their battle. Challenges and petitions have succeeded each for years.

In 1990 a group of 47 women defied the ban on driving by roaming the streets of the capital Riyadh in 15 cars in November 1990. They were swiftly rounded up by police and penalised, while their male guardians (husbands, fathers, brothers, etc.) were reprimanded.

The following year, a fatwa (religious edict) was issued by the then mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz, prohibiting women from driving cars.

But the matter did not end there and regularly comes back to the fore.

In September, more than 1,100 Saudi men and women signed a petition to King Abdullah urging him to lift the controversial ban on women driving in the oil-rich kingdom.

In the video, Huwaidar (photo) appears driving outside the city. A fringe of banged hair escaping from her veil (also banned), she is calmly driving along the almost empty road.

“Women can drive in the countryside. There is no problem with that. What is important is to allow women to drive in urban areas,” she said.

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