Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Women Driving and Reform in Saudi Arabia

by Isobel Coleman
June 27, 2011

Umm Ibrahim sits behind the wheel of her vehicle as she drives in Riyadh, an act that is banned in Saudi Arabia, June 21, 2011 (Amena Bakr/Courtesy Reuters).

Following up on my earlier blog post on this issue, I wrote an article about the issue of women driving in Saudi Arabia, which appeared in Sunday’s Washington Post. The piece argues that although last week’s driving protest passed with a whimper compared to the uprisings shaking the rest of the Arab world, the ongoing debate over women’s rights is at the heart of tensions between reform and conservative religious tradition in Saudi Arabia. Rather than a distraction from the core pursuit of women’s rights in the country, it stands to become a centerpiece issue in that struggle and the broader reform movement in Saudi Arabia. I look forward to your comments.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Santiago

    Dear Isobel:

    Your article for the Washington Post was very interesting, and I agree: this issue can rally many women in a quest for more rights. However, I wonder: if the authorities let women drive, will that spark more activism or will it suffocate it? Maybe the authorities’ stance against this right, that may be seen as trivial by some, could spark more activism than a moderate response of concession. What do you think?

  • Posted by Isobel Coleman

    Thanks for your comment.By not arresting anyone on the day of the driving demonstration, the authorities seemed as if they were trying to tamp down the tension. The arrest of Manal al-Sharif clearly escalated the activism of the women. The government might be betting that a more conciliatory approach toward the women activists will divide the opposition between liberals and conservative salafists. While that might be true to some extent, I just don’t think this issue is now going to go away.

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