As the women of Saudi Arabia organize a Saturday protest against the kingdom’s prohibition on female driving, the government has warned that it will meet violations of the law and “activities disturbing the public peace” with “firmness and force.”
While no law explicitly bans women from driving in Saudi Arabia, the government does not issue driver’s licenses to them, imposing a de facto ban. It is the only country in the world in which women cannot receive the privilege of driving. In response, women who seek the ability to drive legally have organized a Day of Female Driving on October 26.
Those who oppose female drivers have already made their voices heard; according to the AP, the government’s statement on upholding the law comes in light of a protest of more than 150 religious officials against the government itself for not enforcing the ban strongly enough. This perception comes in light of organizers of the October 26 protests and other women posting photos of themselves driving without a license in Saudi Arabia on social media and using the images to rally big numbers for a national day against this law.
With turmoil looming on Saturday as supporters and opponents of the ban become increasingly vocal, Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry released a statement Wednesday reminding the public that the images of women driving were illegal and that the government was prepared to act against acts “opening venues to sedition.” Some translations of the statement emphasize the government’s threat to use “firmness and force” against lawbreakers, which female drivers by default technically are.
The firm language does not seem to have deterred many women expressing their intent to drive on Saturday. Organizers of the Day of Female Driving have stated that they interpret the government’s message as auspicious for them, as it arrived in response to reactionary protests against women drivers. The government specifically targeted social media calls for “congregations and marches against an alleged day of female driving” as problematic in addition to the driving itself, as well.
“As soon as I read the Ministry statement, I was sure the message was meant for them, not for those who will go out to drive,” said Tamador Alyami, a prominent Saudi blogger who has posted images of herself driving, according to CNN.
At press time, protests are still scheduled for Saturday, October 26 across Saudi Arabia.