Back in 2011, I went to Saudi Arabia on assignment. While I was there, buzz was building about one of the more peculiar revolts to have been inspired by the Arab uprisings earlier that year: women in the country were taking to the streets to fight for their right to drive. Though in this case, they weren’t marching, but driving. Quietly, with little fanfare and a lot of courage, they started driving to the grocery store, to the doctor, or to pick their kids up from school. What may seem like thankless errands for most women in the world had become an act of revolution.
Giddy with excitement, I joined one woman, Maha al Qatani, as she took her husband’s car out for her maiden drive in the Kingdom. She had a U.S. driver’s license, but had never dared to use it in Saudi. It wasn’t long before we were pulled over by a cop car. Six of them, actually.
In the end, the low key protest didn’t go very far. Women were arrested, one was jailed. And despite international opprobrium, it seemed like the King wasn’t ready to take on the conservatives and upset the status quo. But the movement was tenacious. Now, Saudi Arabia’s new King has announced that women will be able to drive, starting summer 2018. It will be exactly seven years since Maha al Qatani got her first traffic ticket, and Saudi Arabia issued its first traffic violation to a woman. I hope she still has that faded yellow paper framed somewhere.
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