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Manal al-Sharif

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Manal al-Sharif

Manal al-Sharif (Manal Abd Masoud Almnami al-Sharif)
منال الشريف
Born (1979-04-25) 25 April 1979 [1]
Mecca, Saudi Arabia
Occupation Computer Scientist,[2] Saudi Aramco[3]
Known for Defying female driving ban in Saudi Arabia[4][5]
Religion Islam
Children 1 son (born c. 2006)[5]

Manal al-Sharif (Arabic: منال الشريف‎) is a women's rights activist from Saudi Arabia who helped start a women's right to drive campaign in 2011. A women's rights activist who had previously filmed herself driving, Wajeha al-Huwaider, filmed al-Sharif driving a car as part of the campaign.[6] The video was posted on YouTube and Facebook.[4][5] Al-Sharif was detained and released on 21 May and rearrested the following day.[2][7] On 30 May, al-Sharif was released on bail,[8] on the conditions of returning for questioning if requested, not driving and not talking to the media.[9] The New York Times and Associated Press associated the women's driving campaign with the wider pattern of the Arab Spring and the long duration of al-Sharif's detention with Saudi authorities' fear of protests.[10][11]

Following her driving campaign, al-Sharif remained an active critic of the Saudi government, tweeting on issues including imprisoned female foreign workers, the lack of elections for the Shura Council, and the murder of Lama al-Ghamdi. Her work has been recognized by Foreign Policy, Time, and the Oslo Freedom Forum.


Manal al-Sharif graduated from King Abdulaziz University with a Bachelor of Science in computing and a Cisco Career Certification.[3] Until May 2012, she worked as an Internet Security Consultant[2] for Saudi Aramco,[3] the Saudi national oil company. She also wrote for Al Watan, a Saudi daily.[12]

Women's rights campaigns

In addition to her professional career, al-Sharif has campaigned for women's rights in Saudi Arabia for many years.[2] According to the New York Times, al-Sharif "has a reputation for pulling stunts to highlight the lack of rights for women".[10] Regarding the 2011 women driving campaign, Amnesty International stated that "Manal al-Sharif is following in a long tradition of women activists around the world who have put themselves on the line to expose and challenge discriminatory laws and policies".[13]

Women's driving rights in Saudi Arabia

As of 2013, women in Saudi Arabia have limited freedom of movement and in practice are not allowed to drive motor vehicles.[14] In 1990, dozens of women in Riyadh drove their cars in protest, were imprisoned for one day, had their passports confiscated, and some of them lost their jobs.[15] In September 2007, the Association for the Protection and Defense of Women's Rights in Saudi Arabia, co-founded by Wajeha al-Huwaider[16] and Fawzia al-Uyyouni, gave a 1,100 signature petition to King Abdullah asking for women to be allowed to drive.[17] On International Women's Day 2008, Huwaider filmed herself driving and received international media attention after the video was posted on YouTube.[15][16][18] Inspired by the Arab Spring, a woman from Jeddah, Najla Hariri, started driving in the second week of May 2011, stating "Before in Saudi, you never heard about protests. [But] after what has happened in the Middle East, we started to accept a group of people going outside and saying what they want in a loud voice, and this has had an impact on me."[19]

2011 women driving campaign

a woman waving victory sing while driving the car
A political cartoon by Carlos Latuff about the Saudi women movement to lift the ban on their right to drive titled "New Saudi Arabia's traffic sign"

In 2011, a group of women including Manal al-Sharif started a Facebook campaign named "Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself"[4] or "Women2Drive"[5][2] that says that women should be allowed to drive. The campaign calls for women to start driving from 17 June 2011.[5] By 21 May 2011, about 12,000 readers of the Facebook page had expressed their support.[4] Al-Sharif describes the action as acting within women's rights, and "not protesting".[2] Wajeha al-Huwaider was impressed by the campaign and decided to help.[6]

In late May, Al-Sharif drove her car in Khobar with al-Huwaider filming.[6] The video was posted to YouTube and Facebook. In the video, al-Sharif stated, "This is a volunteer campaign to help the girls of this country [learn to drive]. At least for times of emergency, God forbid. What if whoever is driving them gets a heart attack?" She was detained by the religious police (CPVPV) on 21 May and released after six hours.[4][7] By 23 May 2011, about 600,000 people had watched the video.[7]

The YouTube video of al-Sharif's drive became inaccessible at its original location, the Facebook page for the campaign was deleted, and the Twitter account used by al-Sharif was "copied and altered". Supporters republished the original video and Facebook page and a summary of al-Sharif's five recommended rules for the 17 June campaign were published on a blog and by the New York Times.[20][21]

On 22 May, al-Sharif was detained again[5][7] and the Director General of Traffic Administration, Major-General Suleiman Al-Ajlan, was questioned by journalists regarding traffic regulations related to women driving. Al-Ajlan stated that the journalists should "put the question" to members of the Consultative Assembly of Saudi Arabia.[22] RTBF suggested that al-Sharif had been sentenced to five days' imprisonment.[2]

The New York Times described al-Sharif's campaign as a "budding protest movement" that the Saudi government tried to "swiftly extinguish".[10] protest movement in Saudi Arabia.[10][11] Amnesty International declared Al-Sharif to be a prisoner of conscience and called for her immediate and unconditional release.[13]

The day after al-Sharif's arrest, another woman was detained for driving a car. She drove with two women passengers in Ar Rass and was detained by traffic police in the presence of the CPVPV. She was released after signing a statement that she would not drive again.[23] In reaction to al-Sharif's arrest, several more Saudi women published videos of themselves driving during the following days.[11] On 26 May, authorities said that al-Sharif would remain in detention until 5 June 2011, according to Waleed Abu Al-Khair.[11] Al-Sharif was conditionally freed on 30 May. Her lawyer Adnan al-Saleh said that she had been charged with "inciting women to drive" and "rallying public opinion".[9] The conditions of Al-Sharif's release include bail,[8] returning for questioning if requested, not driving and not talking to the media.[9] As possible reasons for al-Sharif's early release, The National cited al-Sharif having written a letter to King Abdullah, 4,500 Saudis signing an online petition to the King, and "an outpouring of indignation and disbelief by both Saudis and critics abroad that Ms al-Sharif was jailed for something that is not a moral or criminal offence."[9]

Al-Sharif filed an objection with the General Directorate of Traffic in Riyadh on 15 November 2011 because of officials rejecting her driver's licence application.[24][25] Samar Badawi filed a similar lawsuit on 4 February 2012.[26][27][28]

2011 women prisoners campaign

Following her 30 May release from prison, al-Sharif started a Twitter campaign called "Faraj" to release Saudi, Filipino and Indonesian women prisoners in the Dammam women's prison who "are locked up just because they owe a small sum of money but cannot afford to pay the debt".[29] Al-Sharif said that the women prisoners were mostly domestic workers who remained in prison after completing their prison terms, because they could not pay their debts and because their former Saudi employers did not help to release them or fund their flights to return to their countries of origin. She referred to 22 Indonesian women and named four women needing help and stated the amount of their debts. She called for donations to be made directly to the director of the Dammam women's prison in order to reimburse the women's debts and free them.[30]


On 23 January 2012, al-Sharif was mistakenly reported dead in a car crash in Jeddah.[31] On 25 January, The Guardian confirmed that she was in fact alive, and that the actual victim was an "unnamed member of a desert community" who was not involved in the female driving campaign.[32]

Following al-Sharif's arrests, she reported being increasingly marginalized by her employers at Aramco. She quit following a dispute over her trip to Norway to receive the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent.[33]

In December 2012, al-Sharif criticized an initiative by the Saudi government to inform husbands via SMS when their wives or dependents leave the country, in accordance with a law making men the legal guardians of their wives. "The small fact of the SMS story gives you the idea of the bigger problem with the whole guardianship system", she wrote on Twitter.[34] When King Abdullah appointed women to the advisory Shura Council for the first time in January 2013, al-Sharif criticized the reform as too small, noting that the Council was still not an elected body and could not pass legislation.[35] In February, she worked to bring international attention to the case of five-year-old Lama al-Ghamdi, whose father Fayhan al-Ghamdi fatally raped, beat, and burned her; he served four months in jail and paid 200,000 riyals (roughly US$50,000) in blood money.[36]


Foreign Policy magazine named al-Sharif one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2011,[37] and she was listed in Forbes list of Women Who (Briefly) Rocked in the same year.[38] In 2012, al-Sharif was named one of the Fearless Women of the year by The Daily Beast,[39] and Time magazine named her one of the 100 Most Influential People of 2012.[40] She was also one of three people awarded the first annual Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent at the Oslo Freedom Forum.[33]

See also


  1. ^ Manal al-Sharif. "Manal Alsharif منال الشريف | Facebook". Retrieved 19 August 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Histoire du monde : le droit de conduire" (in French).  
  3. ^ a b c "Manal Al-Sharif - Computer Security Consultant II".  
  4. ^ a b c d e Al-Shihri, Abdullah (21 May 2011). "Manal al-Sherif, Saudi Woman, Detained For Defying Driving Ban".  
  5. ^ a b c d e f Saudi woman claims she was detained for driving on, 22 May 2011
  6. ^ a b c al-Huwaider, Wajeha (23 May 2011). "The Saudi woman who took to the driver's seat".  
  7. ^ a b c d Stewart, Catrina (23 May 2011). "Saudi woman arrested after defying driving ban". London:  
  8. ^ a b "Detained Saudi woman driver to be freed on bail".  
  9. ^ a b c d Murphy, Caryle (31 May 2011). "Saudi woman driver released from jail after nine days".  
  10. ^ a b c d MacFarquhar, Neil (23 May 2011). "Saudis Arrest Woman Leading Right-to-Drive Campaign".  
  11. ^ a b c d e Michael, Maggie (26 May 2011). "Saudi authorities extend detention of woman who defied ban on female drivers".  
  12. ^  
  13. ^ a b "Saudi Arabia urged to release woman arrested following driving campaign".  
  14. ^ Vivian Salama (11 May 2013). "Baby Steps Toward Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia". The Daily Beast. Retrieved 19 July 2013. 
  15. ^ a b Saudi women make video protest BBC. Tuesday 11 March 2008. Retrieved on 23 May 2010.
  16. ^ a b "Women Deliver 100: 26 - 50". Women deliver. 2011. Archived from the original on 23 May 2011. Retrieved 23 May 2011. 
  17. ^ "2008 Human Rights Report: Saudi Arabia".  
  18. ^ Setrakian, Lara. "Saudi Woman Drives on YouTube." ABC News. 10 March 2008. Retrieved on 23 May 2010.
  19. ^ Buchanan, Michael (18 May 2011). "Saudi woman seeks to put women in the driving seat".  
  20. ^ Mackey, Robert (24 May 2011). "Saudi Woman's Driving Video Preserved Online".  
  21. ^ al-Nafjan, Eman Fahad (21 May 2011). "Manal Al Sherif". Archived from the original on 25 May 2011. Retrieved 24 May 2011. 
  22. ^ "Lawmakers hold key to women’s driving: Al-Ajlan".  
  23. ^ "Saudi woman caught driving in Qassim".  
  24. ^ Abu-Nasr, Donna (4 February 2012). "Saudi Woman Sues Traffic Agency for Refusing Driver's License".  
  25. ^ "Saudi women defy driving ban". CNN. 17 June 2011. 
  26. ^ "Saudi women launch legal fight against driving ban". London:  
  27. ^ "Saudi women file lawsuit against govt.".  
  28. ^  
  29. ^ "Manal...from driving activist to prison activist".  
  30. ^ "Manal moved by plight of detained housemaids".  
  31. ^ "Saudi female driver defies ban, has fatal accident". AFP. 23 January 2012. Retrieved 25 January 2012. 
  32. ^ Martin Chulov (25 January 2012). "Saudi woman driver reported killed in car crash is alive". London:  
  33. ^ a b Jamie Weinstein (14 May 2012). "Saudi woman driver: I was pressured out of my job for my activism". The Daily Caller. Retrieved 16 May 2012. 
  34. ^ Minky Worden (25 December 2012). "Text-message tattling". The Washington Post.  – via  
  35. ^ Christine Hauser (12 January 2013). "Saudi king appoints women to advisory council for first time". International Herald Tribune.  – via  
  36. ^ "Saudis keep lid on rape scandals". Winnipeg Free Press.  – via  
  37. ^ "The FP Top 100 Global Thinkers".  
  38. ^ "Fifteen Minutes of Power: Women Who (Briefly) Rocked 2011".  
  39. ^ "Women in the World: 150 Women Fearless Women (Photos)".  
  40. ^ "Manal al-Sharif - 2012 TIME 100: The Most Influential People in the World".  

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