Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia

Some women are lobbying the king for the right to drive. This effort will not work, because:

The government is unlikely to respond because the issue remains so highly sensitive and divisive. But committee members say their petition will at least highlight what many Saudis - both men and women - consider a "stolen" right.

"We would like to remind officials that this is, as many have said, a social and not a religious or political issue," said Fowziyyah al-Oyouni, a founding member of the Committee of Demanders of Women's Right to Drive Cars. "And since it's a social issue, we have the right to lobby for it."

Committee members want to deliver their petition to the king by Sunday, Saudi Arabia's national day.

The driving ban applies to all women, Saudi and foreign, and forces families to hire live-in drivers. Women whose families cannot afford $300-$400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor's.

The last time the issue was raised was two years ago, when Mohammed al-Zulfa, a member of the unelected Consultative Council, asked his colleagues to think about studying the possibility of allowing women over age 35 or 40 to drive - unchaperoned on city streets but accompanied by a male guardian on highways.

The suggestion touched off a fierce controversy that included calls for al-Zulfa's removal from the council and stripping him of Saudi citizenship, as well as accusations he was encouraging women to commit the double sins of discarding their veils and mixing with men.

What is astonishing about the need to have a driver is that the driver will be a man and often one unrelated to the woman he is driving around. This inside a car. If anything could contribute to further intimacy it would be this. But of course the real reason for banning women from driving has nothing to do with sex and such: it is all about the need to control women, sadly. The caged pet birds.