“Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi mother and computer-security professional, last year posted a YouTube video of herself defying her country’s draconian ban on women driving. She was arrested and, after a groundswell of protest, released. Her ongoing advocacy has breathed life into a new movement for individual rights.”
This is why Manal Al-Sharif was awarded the Vaclav Havel prize on may, 9, according to their website.
Now, let’s make one thing clear: I fully support women driving, both their cars and their destinies. I found Manal’s action brave, I found the reactions exaggerated and malicious.
But does that qualify her for Havel prize which is dedicated to political oppositionists? I don’t believe it does.
1- There is no actual (law-enforced) ban on women driving in Saudi Arabia. That’s why Manal and the “I’ll drive my own car” group decided to start the campaign in the first place.
2- On September, 23, Manal was a guest on “Musawat” (aired at Alhurra Channel) where she said: “King Abdullah doesn’t mind, society does, so we thought it was time for that to change”. So, Manal didn’t defy the government by driving, she defied the society .. Still admirable but different.
3- Solidarity actions were taken, wether online or on the streets, but the real reason Manal was released is her appeal to Saudi King to release her, which was followed by this statement:
“I would first and foremost like to express my profound gratitude to our leaders, in particular the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, for ordering my release from detention, a gesture that does not come as a surprise knowing the King’s benevolence toward his sons and daughters in this honorable country.
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 … etc”
The statement was published in Alhayat newspaper (owned by Prince Khaled Bin Sultan Al-Saud) which Manal writes for regularly .. So much for political opposition!
The apology either wasn’t sincere, which would make her a liar and a coward for not sticking up for her cause, or it was sincere and she’s a hypocrite for accepting an award she does not deserve.
Manal’s fame has turned her into a representation of Saudi women, and that’s not 100% accurate.
Manal’s circumstances are not those of most Saudi women. She’s financially independent and her “Male-Gurdian” is actually supportive of her, which gave her the strength to stand in society’s face and the freedom of travelling the world to tell her story.
Manal talks of women being deprived of their rights in Saudi Arabia, while clearly showing her disapproval of those who use their right to cover head to toe or to not listen to music. If it’s wrong for “them” to make us abide by their beliefs , it’s also wrong for “us”to mock those beliefs just because they differ from ours.
Manal also gives me the impression of a person who glorifies the west. I sense comparisons being made between her words. I sense an attempt to separate herself from the country that produces bloody terrorists and ignorant followers only. Our country is far from being perfect, but we are not all terrorists or ignorant. As for her substantiation for the mixture the west possesses between terror and jihad, that’s something I won’t comment on now (for lack of democracy reasons).
I’m angered by Arabs or Muslims who think we can only change our countries by turning them into An American/European model. What a lack of ambition!
I want my country to change badly, but not into another America or France. The great west isn’t so great. Our country has produced the Osamas and Juhaimans, just like the west produced the Hitlers and Bushes (unless it wasn’t terror to kill people if you’re called a president or a NATO soldier). The continuous occupation of Palestine, the invasion of Kuwait then Iraq, the bombings in Afghanistan and Yemen, all those were turning points in our lives, why not talk about them?
A representation of Muslim, Arab, Saudi women -myself included- would talk about that in her speeches and interviews.
To sum it up: what Manal did was “creative” and there are -probably- some awards she’d be perfect for. An award for political opposition isn’t really one of them. Her acceptance to such award, one that is not meant for her and is given to her based on false reasons, is disappointing to say the very least!
*The statement of Manal Al-Sharif was translated by Zaki Safar. To read the whole statement: http://zakisafar.com/manal-al-sharifs-statement-on-release-from-detention-english/