Saudi authorities have released a female activist, Manal al-Sharif, who spent five days in jail for defying the conservative Muslim kingdom's ban on women driving. Oil-rich Saudi Arabia — a key U.S. ally in the region — has so far escaped the wave of protests sweeping the Arab world. But al-Sharif's arrest — which came after she posted videos online showing her behind the wheel — has fueled calls for change from the country's youth. It has also drawn attention to her attempt to get Saudi women to join a collective protest by getting into cars and driving on June 17. Is this the spark Saudi reformists have been missing?
The Saudi government can't sweep this under the rug: The royal family probably thought that by taking down al-Sharif's Facebook page they could silence her protest, says Pat Bartels at Gather. But the video is still visible on YouTube. This case "illustrates just how oppressed women are in Saudi Arabia," and now that the word is out that women are standing up for their rights, there is no going back.
"Saudi woman uses social media and lands in jail"
It's time to just let women drive: "There need not be a stand-off or confrontation on this issue if it is handled correctly," says The Saudi Gazette in an editorial. All the government has to do is let women drive. "Society will not break down if women are mobile." The ban is unofficial, anyway — there is no law saying women can't drive. So all it will take to settle this is educating men that the women in their lives need more freedom if they — and Saudi society — are to reach their full potential.
"Women and the right to drive cars"
But this isn't about driving: Al-Sharif's crime, in the eyes of the government, wasn't driving, says Jane Martinson in Britain's Guardian. It was posting her protest video on Facebook and Twitter — the social networking powerhouses that have helped uprisings spread elsewhere. The government probably won't budge on its long-standing passive support of religious clerics' ban on women driving, but it will be "quick to stamp down" any effort by protesters to harness the power of the internet and use it against the government.
"A drive for freedom in Saudi Arabia"