Christians and Women - Not Free in Saudi Arabia

A Woman Driving in Saudi Arabia
(Photo : REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser)
A woman drives a car in Saudi Arabia October 22, 2013. A conservative Saudi Arabian cleric has said women who drive risk damaging their ovaries and bearing children with clinical problems, countering activists who are trying to end the Islamic kingdom's male-only driving rules. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world where women are barred from driving, but debate about the ban, once confined to the private sphere and social media, is increasingly spreading to public forums too.
Despite being warned by Saudi government officials countless times, the women in Saudi Arabia that plan to defy the rule that doesn't allow ladies to drive tomorrow are sticking to their plans. While there is no law on the books that bans women from operating motor vehicles, powerful clerics who hold far-reaching influence over the kingdom's ruling monarchy enforce the rule. According to ABC News, Friday's edition of the pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat quoted Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Turki al-Faisal as saying cyber-dissident laws could apply to anyone supporting the women-driving campaign. Anyone convicted on those charges can be fined or sentenced to up to 5 years in prison, the article quoted Marwan al-Ruwqi, a Saudi consultant on cyber laws, as saying.

On Wednesday, al-Faisal gave a statement warning of police crackdowns against "disturbing public order" after nearly 150 clerics and religious scholars protested outside a royal palace, saying Saudi authorities were doing nothing to stop women from ignoring the driving ban. As the clock ticks down to tomorrow, more threats and attacks have been seen. The main website of the women-driving campaign,, was blocked early today and replaced with the message: "Drop the leadership of Saudi women."

In the past few years, Saudi laws regarding the rights of women have changed a bit. Women are now allowed to sit on the national advisory council and King Abdullah has granted women the right to vote and run in municipal elections in 2015. However, the code that requires women to obtain a male guardian's approval to travel and the ban on lady drivers has not changed. Clerics warn that "licentiousness" will spread if women drive and one prominent cleric has also gone so far as to say that medical studies show that driving a car harms a woman's ovaries.

This is not the first time women in Saudi Arabia have banded together to protest the driving ban. In 1995 about 50 women who had gotten licenses in other countries drove their cars. They were jailed for a day, had their passports confiscated and lost their jobs. In 2011, about 40 women took to the streets (in cars) in several cities to protest after a woman was arrested after posting a video of herself driving.

Rules, laws and bans on things that the clerics in the country don't like are nothing new. Since 2004, Saudi Arabia has been on the US State Department's Country of Particular Concern (CPC) list due to their intolerance of those who profess Christ. While countries on the list can suffer economic sanctions, any such sanctions against Saudi Arabia have been waived since 2006.

With no real consequences for religious abuse, the Saudi government has had little to no reason to change and continues to punish those who convert to Christianity or even debate its right to exist in the country. On July 29, 2013, editor Raef Badawi was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment and 600 lashes by a court in Jeddah after being convicted of creating and managing an online forum (the Liberal Saudi Network) that "undermined national security" under the information technology law. He was also convicted of "insulting religious symbols" and criticizing the religious police and officials that were calling for gender segregation in the Shura Council. The forum, which had been created to foster political and social debate in Saudi Arabia, was ordered closed by the judge. In May, the Saudi Gazette reported that a Christian Lebanese man was accused of helping a Saudi women convert to Christianity and was sentenced to six years in prison and 300 lashes. The daughter was also sentenced to six years and 300 lashes, but she reportedly fled to Sweden. The World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty Commission reported that in February, 53 Ethiopian Christians, 46 of whom were women, were arrested by Saudi authorities while attending a worship service in the home of an Ethiopian believer in Dammam and charged with trying to convert Muslims to Christianity.

Saudi Arabia is home to more than 1.5 million Christians, mostly Catholics, who are non-citizens. They are only allowed to worship within the privacy of their own homes so there are no legal Christian churches in the country. Last March, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah, was reported by the Middle East Forum as saying it was "necessary to destroy all the churches of the region."

Saudi Basic Law does not grant any religious freedom and the government enforces Sharia Law. Blasphemy and apostasy are punishable by death, and proselytising for non-Muslim religions is illegal. The World Evangelical Alliance calls the country "one of the worst violators of religious freedom." (source)

Tags : Saudi Arabia Christianity

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