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Saudi woman facing trial for driving

Najalaa Harrir, one of the Saudi activists behind the “My Right, My Dignity” campaign trying to end discrimination against women, will be brought to trial for violating Saudi Arabia’s ban on female drivers, the Associated Press reports.

Saudi lawyer Waleed Aboul Khair told the AP that Harrir had been summoned for questioning by authorities on Sunday in the city of Jeddah. Harrir recently appeared on a TV show while driving her car in the city.

The Wall Street Journal explains where the ban comes from:

Contrary to what many outsiders believe, Saudi law does not explicitly forbid women from driving. But the Kingdom refuses to issue driving licenses to women because of religious rulings, known as fatwas, from the Kingdom’s arch-conservative clerical corps. These rulings argue that driving would give women too many freedoms and lead to social problems. According to one Wikileaks cable, the ban became more official when the grand mufti of Saudi in 1991 said that allowing women to drive would result in public mixing of the genders, put women into dangerous situations because they could be alone in cars, and therefore end only in social chaos.

To get around, the Journal reports, many Saudi women employ male drivers.

On the same day that Harrir went in for questioning, King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud announced that women in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to vote and run for office in future municipal elections.

“Since we reject to marginalize the role of women in the Saudi society, in every field of works, according to the (Islamic) Sharia guidelines, and after consultations with many of our scholars, especially those in the senior scholars council, and others, who have expressed the preference for this orientation, and supported this trend, we have decided the following,” the king said in a five-minute speech on Saudi state television on Sunday.

Women will also be added to the Shura council, the Consultative Council appointed by the king.

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