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Saudi woman driver ‘quits’ campaign

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Summary of story from The Guardian, June 1, 2011

Manal al-Sharif, the Saudi woman jailed earlier this month for driving a car, has pledged to take no further action in the campaign to allow women to drive following her release this week.

Sharif, who has played a key role in the Women2Drive campaign, had been arrested for posting a video of herself driving as part of the campaign to persuade the Saudi authorities to let women drive and was released earlier this week (see WVoN story).

Her actions, and the resulting media attention, prompted other women to follow her lead in order to provoke public debate.

However, two other women were also questioned by police and cautioned against further involvement in the campaign.  One Muslim cleric even called for Sharif to be lashed.   She has now announced that she will quit the campaigning group.

Her lawyer, Adnan al-Salah, said that his client had made this decision herself, and not due to pressure from the authorities.

“She wrote a pledge that she will not drive a car and after what has happened she has decided to give up the campaign and not be part of the protests.”

On Tuesday, Sharif spoke of her “profound gratitude” to King Abdullah for releasing her and issued a written statement.

“Concerning the topic of women’s driving, I will leave it up to our leader in whose discretion I entirely trust, to weigh the pros and cons and reach a decision that will take into consideration the best interests of the people, while also being pleasing to Allah, and in line with divine law.

“On this happy occasion, I would also like to affirm that never in my life had I been anything beside a Muslim, Saudi woman who aspires to remain in God’s good graces and to safeguard the reputation of our beloved country.”

However, some believe that her decision to quit the campaign was a condition of her release.

Sharif’s friend Wajeha al-Huwaider, who videoed her as she drove, said, “Usually when they are released, they are warned not to get in touch with anybody, not to talk to the media and not to get involved in any activity.

“I am sure they told her we shouldn’t continue with this issue. They told me that and the message was clear to me. I am sure for her it was even stronger.”

She also praised Sharif, saying “She succeeded in sending a message all over the world and educating people in Saudi Arabia about the need for ordinary Saudi women to drive.  We will continue the fight, but we will use different ways.”

In light of these developments, the climax of the Women2Drive campaign, a mass drive due to take place on 17th June which is inspired in part by civil liberties demonstrations across the Middle East, now appears to be in jeopardy.

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