The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

October 26, 2013

Saudi women drive in protest with little problem

(Continued)

King Abdullah gradually has introduced reforms since then. The reforms, which include allowing women to sit on the national advisory council and permitting women to vote and run in municipal elections, may have readied the deeply conservative nation for change.

But the stringent male guardian system has been left untouched. It requires women to obtain permission from a male relative to travel, get married, enroll in higher education or undergo surgery in some cases.

Women who complain about not having male relatives to drive them places or money to spend on a driver are told by many Saudi clerics to call for better public transportation systems, not a driver's license.

Karen Elliott House, the author of "On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines," has interviewed many key members of the kingdom's very private royal family and says the monarchy is trying to slowly embrace more openness.

"They try to constantly, like a tight rope walker, to balance by tilting first toward the most rigid clerics and then toward modernizers to keep a balance in the kingdom," House said.

In the days leading up to the campaign, some hard-liners called for women drivers to be harassed. Ultraconservative clerics and top religious scholars, angry that the government is not cracking down harder, protested earlier in the week.

Youssef said she and four other prominent women activists received phone calls from a top official with close links to Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, urging them not to drive on Saturday. She also said that "two suspicious cars" were following her all day.

Despite the obstacles, Youssef said only one woman reported being pulled over by police Saturday. The woman was asked to sign a statement promising not to drive again and her husband took over the steering wheel, she said.

"We will continue driving and posting videos," Youssef said. "The whole thing is raising awareness and making people get used to us driving as normal."

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