Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive. One Saudi woman recently claimed that right when she drove her children to school in Jeddah. Netizens debate the move, with many applauding the woman, Najla Hariri, for her heroic feat.
The debate to allow women to drive cars has been ebbing and flowing in the oil-rich conservative kingdom for many years. The religious authorities have always viewed this right, if granted, as something that will ruin women and the whole of society, while liberals, along with a lot of Saudi women, say it is a basic right that women should naturally have, especially those who cannot afford to employ a driver.
A picture of Najla Hariri taken from her Twitter account @hariri65.
Najla Hariri‘s feat stormed the Internet, and on Twitter, the long debate continued between those who refused what Najla had done and those who praised her courage and struggle to prove that society is wrong in banning women from driving cars. Hariri reacted kindly to the praise she got in comments through her Twitter account saying [ar]:
أعزائي، جعلتم مني رائدة ورمز، أنا لست أي من ذلك، انا أم وجدت نفسها في احتياج لأخذ زمام المبادرة، ففعلت من غير بطولات ولا انجازات
You have made me a leader and an icon, when I am not any of that. I am just a mother who found herself in need to do something, so I did what I've done without looking for heroic acts or achievements.
Saudi blogger Fouad Al-Farhan wrote a comment [ar] on what Mrs Hariri had done, saying:
ما قامت به الأستاذة نجلاء حريري من قيادة سيارتها يوم أمس في جدة وتوصيل أطفالها هو حق حلال ومشروع ومصادرة الحق ظلم
What Mrs Najla Hariri has done driving her car in Jeddah to give a ride to her children is a legitimate [Halal] right and taking this right away is unfair.
Another Saudi tweep, Abdulrahman Kattoa, praised what Najla did, describing [ar] her as another Rosa Park, the African-American civil rights movement activist:
ما يكسر حاجز الخوف إلا الشجعان زي ما كسرت الأمريكية في الباص الاضطهاد العنصري في أمريكا
No one breaks the fear wall except the brave, just the way an American woman broke racist oppression in a bus
A Saudi male doctor, Rami Niazy, expressed his feelings of disappointment to see Saudis still debating the issue of allowing women to drive cars. He wrote a tweet [ar] saying:
كلما تذكرت أننا لا زلنا نناقش المرأة تسوق ولا لأ في سنة ٢٠١١ ٬ اشعر بإحباط شديد. الناس طلعوا القمر من ٤٠ سنة
Whenever I remember that we are still debating whether to let women drive or not in 2011, I feel terribly disappointed. People went to the moon 40 years ago!
Saudi columnist Essam Al-Zamel wrote in his Twitter account a side comment on the debate of women driving saying [ar]:
أتمنى أن لا يحول التيار الإسلامي قيادة المرأة إلى صراع بين الاسلاميين والليبراليين. فقيادة المرأة تخص المرأة وليس الليبراليين
I hope the Islamic movement will not convert the issue of women driving cars to a clash between Islamists and Liberals because driving a car is an issue concerning women, not Liberals.
Kuwaiti columnist Abdullah Zaman wrote a tweet in English to Mrs Hariri praising her courage:
Najla, I envy you for what you did today. You got the guts to be a symbol of the will in the women’s world.
Saudi political activist Waleed Abu Alkhair pointed out [ar] the importance of what Mrs Hariri had done:
باختصار سياقة نجلاء حريري لسيارتها في وسط جدة ووقت الذروة ولمسافة طويلة دون أي مضايقات يبدد ما يشاع عن مجتمعنا أنه سوف يؤذي المرأة إن ساقت
In short, Najla Hariri driving her car in the middle of Jeddah City during the rush hour for a long distance without getting harassed, should end what has been rumored in the society about women getting hurt if they would drive.