Saudi women ask King Abdullah to lift female driving ban

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King Abdullah, centre left, and Crown Prince Sultan pose for a picture with a group of women at a seminar on health and the community. Photo - AFP/Getty Images

Hundreds of Saudis have petitioned King Abdullah to allow women to drive vehicles on the first anniversary of the Women2Drive campaign launched in June last year.

The signatories, who numbered nearly 600 on Wednesday, asked the king to “encourage women who have obtained driving licences from neighbouring countries to begin driving whenever necessary”. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that forbids women from getting behind the wheel.

They also urged the monarch to “establish driving schools for women and (begin) issuing licences.”

The petition thanked the king for giving women the right to vote in municipal elections set to take place in 2015.”Our initiative is not aimed at violating laws,” the campaign statement said.

“We only want to enjoy the right to drive like all women over the world,” said the petition signed by Manal al-Sherif, the icon of an Internet campaign launched last year urging Saudi women to defy the driving ban.

Najla Hariri, a Saudi mother who was freed after briefly arrested for driving in the western city of Jeddah in August, said the petition will be handed to the king on our campaign’s anniversary on Sunday.

Sheima Jastaniah, who sentenced to 10 lashes for breaking the driving ban last September, has also signed the petition. King Abdullah pardoned the female driver later.

According to activists, hundreds of women have driven since the campaign was launched and many of them have been arrested and forced to sign a pledge stating they will never drive again.

The campaign, which spread through social media networks, was the largest mass action since November 1990, when 47 Saudi women were arrested and punished after demonstrating in cars.

There is no law that specifically forbids women to drive, but the minister of interior formally banned women from driving following that protest.

Women who have the financial means hire drivers while others must depend on the goodwill of male relatives to get around. They also have to be veiled in public and may not travel unless accompanied by their husbands or a close male relative.

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