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Saudi woman defies driving ban

May 16, 2011 11:17 A.M. (Updated: May 16, 2011 11:17 A.M.)
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AFP) -- A Saudi mother said Sunday she defied a ban on women drivers in the ultra-conservative kingdom by getting behind the wheel for four days without being stopped.

Najla al-Hariri, a housewife in her mid-30s, said she drove non-stop for four days in the streets of the Red Sea city of Jeddah "to defend her belief that Saudi women should be allowed to drive."

"I don't fear being arrested because I am setting an example that my daughter and her friends are proud of," Hariri told AFP, adding she was offering driving lessons for women.

Hariri said she was an experienced motorist as she had driven for five years in Egypt and another five years in Lebanon, while she could not drive in her own country.

In addition to being banned from driving, Saudi women cannot travel without authorization from their male guardians, and are also not allowed to vote in the municipal elections, the only public polls in the absolute monarchy.

When in public, they are obliged to cover from head to toe.

Hariri ridiculed the social belief that Saudi women are treated "like queens" as they are driven around by their male relatives or drivers, saying "this is a big lie."

"We are always under their mercy to give us a lift," she said.

Meanwhile, a group of Saudi women have launched a Internet-based campaign calling for a nationwide protest drive on June 17 in a bid to get rid of the ban once and for all.

"On Friday June 17th, we women in Saudi will start driving our cars by ourselves," says the Women2Drive page on Twitter.

The page for the event on Facebook is entitled "I will drive starting June 17" and has 1,998 supporters.

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