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Saudi Police Detain Female Activist for Driving Car in Al-Khobar

Saudi Arabian traffic and religious police detained a female activist for driving a car in al-Khobar in the kingdom’s Eastern Province on the Persian Gulf, according to an activist.

Manal al-Sharif, 32, was detained for six hours yesterday then released, Ibrahim al-Mugaiteeb, president of the Human Rights First Society, based in al-Khobar, said in a phone interview today.

In Saudi Arabia, which enforces the Wahhabi version of Sunni Islam, women aren’t allowed to have a Saudi driver’s permit. They can’t travel or get an education without male approval or mix with unrelated men in public places and aren’t permitted to vote in municipal elections scheduled on Sept. 29.

Al-Sharif and other women are organizing a campaign on Facebook and Twitter urging Saudi women with international driver’s licenses to get into cars starting on June 17. Manal posted a video on Youtube.com of herself driving on May 19 in al-Khobar. More than half a million people have viewed the video.

“They are challenging conservative religious men,” said Al-Mugaiteeb. “This isn’t about the government.”

In the video, she explains that she learnt how to drive in the U.S. state of New Hampshire when she was 30. She bought a car and hired a male driver for 1,500 riyal ($400) a month. “He used to harass me,” she said. “We are humiliated sometimes because we can’t find a taxi to take us to work.”

The last time a group of women publicly defied the driving ban was on Nov. 6, 1990, when U.S. troops had massed in Saudi Arabia to prepare for a war that would expel Iraq from Kuwait. The Saudi women were spurred by images of female U.S. soldiers driving in the desert and stories of Kuwaiti women driving their children to safety.

-- Editors: Andrew J. Barden, Digby Lidstone.

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