Saudi Shoura Councilwomen Want to End Driving Ban

Three female members of Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council on Tuesday introduced a recommendation to lift the ban on women driving. Councilwoman Latifah Ashaalan said on Twitter that she, along with her colleagues Haya al-Manea and Mona Masheet, recommended giving women the right to drive cars in accordance with Sharia and traffic regulations.

This step comes about 3 weeks before a planned day of protest on October 26 when women activists will challenge the ban on driving by getting behind the wheel in different cities around the kingdom.

However, Ashaalan told al-Hayat daily that the recommendation in the Council has been in the works for months and has nothing to do with the protest campaign. Ashaalan told the newspaper it is “shameful” that Saudi women are not allowed to drive even after many of them reached senior positions in government, adding that the ban has become an “embarrassment” to the country on the international level.

King Abdullah appointed 30 women to the Shoura Council for the first time last February. The King told American journalist Barbara Walters in 2005 that it will be possible to lift the ban on women driving but said that the “issue will require patience.”

As soon as the female members joined the Council, many of them expressed their desire to push the driving ban issue under the dome of Shoura. Prominent conservative cleric Nasser al-Omar criticized these female members and questioned their motives.

“Corrupt beginnings lead to corrupt results,” he warned on Twitter in February. “Wait for more Westernization.”

Last month women activists launched a new online campaign calling for an end to the ban and asking women to drive their cars on October 26. Saudi authorities blocked the campaign website, but more than 14,000 people have already signed the petition published by the organizers.

This will be the third time for Saudi women to challenge the ban on driving. In November 1990, 47 women drove their cars in protest on some major roads in the capital Riyadh. That daring act was forcibly stopped by the police, and women who participated were prohibited from traveling outside the country, fired from their government jobs and denounced in mosques by conservative clerics.

In June 2011, at the height of the Arab Spring, Saudi women made a second attempt to lift the driving ban. After weeks of campaigning on social media, more than 50 women drove their cars in different parts of the country. The police appeared to ignore the female drivers. There was no mass arrests, and only two women who were stopped but they were shortly let go after signing a pledge.

As activists are gearing up for their third attempt, some women have already begun driving in Riyadh and Jeddah and posting videos of themselves behind the wheel over the past two weeks.

“I’m driving my car in a street near my house,” said a veiled woman in this video that was uploaded to YouTube on Monday. “People are looking without disapproval, as if we have been driving for quite some time.”

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Saudi Arabia May Shift Weekend to Friday Start

Saudi Arabia’s Shoura Council recommended a study to shift the country’s weekend from Thursday-Friday to Friday-Saturday, local media reported. The proposed shift will align banking and business days with most other countries in the region.

The Shoura Council, an advisory body that serves as a quasi-parliament whose members are appointed by the King, passed the recommendation commissioning a study to shift the weekend for civil servants after reviewing a report by the Ministry of Civil Service. According to al-Madina daily, 83 members voted for the recommendation while 41 members voted against it. If Shoura supports the change, the shift will require approval from the Council of Ministers before it gets implemented.

The Ministry first suggested a change of the weekend back in 2007, but the Shoura Council failed to pass the proposal. Members who voted against the change at the time cited Islamic reasons. “The proposal for changing the weekend is unacceptable in a country that rules by the Quran and Sunnah and takes them as its constitution,” said Mahmoud Taibah, then deputy president of Shoura.

However, members of the business community continued to demand a weekend shift saying “the national economy incurs huge losses that run into billions of riyals due to the weekend difference with the international community,” Ibrahim Badawood wrote.

Currently, only Saudi Arabia and Oman follow a Thursday-Friday weekend but Oman announced earlier this month that it will also shift to a Friday-Saturday weekend at the beginning of May. Other GCC countries start their two-day weekends on Friday.

Alwaleed Calls for Elections

Saudi billionaire prince Alwaleed bin Talal has called for parliamentary elections in the absolute monarchy where the king names members of a toothless Shura consultative council.

Prince Alwaleed, the richest Arab businessman and a nephew of King Abdullah, said in a television interview aired late Tuesday the monarch’s January decision to appoint 30 women to the council was “very important” but needed to go further.

“For this to become historic, I think two things are essential: first, elections, even if partial, and, more importantly, (giving) powers,” he said in the interview aired on several channels, most belonging to his media empire.

When the interview was first advertised some people wondered if this was an attempt of PR damage control after the prince’s spat with Forbes magazine over his wealth. The controversy only received a brief mention during the interview, where Alwaleed said this was not about his wealth but rather about defending the Saudi stock market and its integrity. Commenters on Twitter said the interview was meant as an introduction to Alwaleed and to show that he wants to become more involved in the public disource in the country. He has praised King Abdullah, but he kept saying much reform is still needed. It is hard to say if Alwaleed is a serious contneder for succession, but he clearly does not lack ambition.

Obaid to Be Honored at Janadriyah

Female member of the Shoura Council Thoraya Obaid will be honored during the annual national heritage and culture festival, better known as Janadriyah, local media reported Wednesday. She will be decorated with King Abdel Aziz medal. Obaid was the Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund and an Under-Secretary General of the United Nations from 2000 to 2010. She was one of 30 women appointed by the king in January 2013 to the Shoura Council, an advisory body that serves as a quasi-parliament, marking a historic progress for women’s rights in the country. Obaid will be the first woman ever to be honored at Janadriyah. This will be another first for the former UN executive who in 1963 became the first Saudi woman to receive a government scholarship to study abroad.

On Saudi Women’s Rights, Boredom is a Sign of Progress

Aryn Baker reports for TIME:

From the outside, progress on women’s rights in the kingdom may appear to be mired in tar. After all, women are still not allowed to drive, they can’t get a job or take a loan without the permission of a male family member, and their designated male guardians, usually a husband or a father, are notified via SMS every time they leave the kingdom. But from the perspective of women inside the country, dizzying changes are afoot. For the first time, female athletes represented Saudi Arabia at the Olympics last year in London. An employment ban has been lifted for female cashiers at supermarkets, and women have taken the place of men in lingerie and cosmetic stores across the country. And in Riyadh on March 26, Cabinet ministers issued a new law making national identification cards mandatory for all women, granting them identities independent from their families and paving the way toward lifting the onerous guardianship system that treats every woman, regardless of her age, as a minor. That would be a crowning achievement for King Abdullah, who has done more for women in his eight-year reign than any monarch since his brother, King Faisal, allowed girls to go to school in 1964.

Saudi Shoura Council to Discuss Lifting Ban on Women Driving

The Saudi Shoura Council has accepted a petition to look into lifting the ban on women driving, local news site Sabq reported Saturday. The Human Rights and Petitions Committee at the council have studied a petition signed by 3,000 citizens and decided that the issue should be opened for debate on the council floor.

“Merely opening the issue for debate would give credibility to the council,” Sulaiman al-Zaidi, former head of the committee was quoted as saying. “The council would win people’s trust as a body that represents them and takes up their issues.”

Abdulla Alami, one of the main bakers of the petition, told Sabq last December that the petition recommended lifting the ban on women driving and asked the council to set a date to discuss it. “More than 3,000 citizens signed the petition, including academics, columnists, intellectuals and students of both genders,” he said. Alami has recently published a book titled “When would Saudi women drive?” explaining how the petition came about and making the case for lifting the ban.

Earlier this year, King Abdullah appointed 30 women as members of the Shoura Council for the first time. The advisory body serves as a quasi-parliament in the conservative kingdom, and the step of appointing women on it angered some hardline clerics. Preacher Nasser al-Omar criticized female members of the council after they said they want to debate lifting driving ban last month.

No Gender Segregation Wall at Shoura?

A Saudi newspaper says officials may consider dropping plans for a barrier separating men and the newly appointed women in the country’s top advisory body.

The reports follow the swearing-in ceremony Sunday for the first women in the ultraconservative kingdom’s Shura Council. There was no barrier during the event as the 30 women sat on one side of the chamber and the 130 men on the other.

Worth mentioning that most of the talk about using a barrier between men and women at the Shoura Council chamber has been mostly speculation on the part of local media as government officials preferred to remain vague about the nature of seperation. Now it seems that women will simply be sitting in one side of the chamber with no barriers between them and their female colleagues. Media were not allowed to cover the first session that took place Sunday, but the state news agency has distributed one photo showing the female members in their seats.