Women and their rights in Saudi Arabia have always been an interesting but at the same time not the most pleasant ( for well-known reasons) theme to speak about. A Saudi man was arrested for allegedly threatening to attack women drivers, the Interior Ministry said on Friday, following a royal decree that ends a ban on women driving in the kingdom.
Many Saudis welcomed Tuesday's announcement by King Salman lifting the ban by next year, but some expressed confusion or outrage after the reversal of a policy that has been backed for decades by prominent clerics. The ministry said on Twitter that police in the kingdom's Eastern Province had arrested the suspect, who was not identified, and referred him to the public prosecutor.
"I swear to God, any woman whose car breaks down — I will burn her and her car," said a man wearing a traditional white robe who appeared in a short video distributed online earlier in the week. Saudi media, including the Arabic-language Okaz newspaper, quoted the Eastern Province's police spokesman as saying the man in custody was in his 20s and that the arrest had been ordered by its governor. Separately, Okaz reported late on Thursday that authorities directed the interior minister to prepare an anti-harassment law within 60 days.
The directions cited "the danger posed by harassment ...and its contradiction with the values of Islam." Saudi authorities have in the past taken a broad view of sexual harassment, including attempts by men to get to know unrelated women by asking to exchange phone numbers or commenting on their beauty.
In a country where gender segregation has been strictly enforced for decades in keeping with the austere Wahhabi form of Sunni Islam, the end of the driving ban means women will have more contact with unrelated men, such as fellow drivers and traffic police.
The ban is a conservative tradition that limits women's mobility and has been seen by rights activists as an emblem of their suppression. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that still bans women from driving.