June 23, 2018 / 12:39 PM / 6 months ago

Timeline - The road to Saudi women driving: 30 years of activism

RIYADH (Reuters) - A decades-old ban on women driving cars in Saudi Arabia is set to end on Sunday, quashing a conservative tradition seen by rights activists as an emblem of the Muslim kingdom’s repression of women.

FILE PHOTO: Trainee Amira Abdulgader practices with a screen in front of her during a driving lesson at Saudi Aramco Driving Center in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, June 6, 2018. Picture taken June 6, 2018. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/File photo

The move is part of sweeping social changes pushed by young Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as he seeks to wean the economy off oil exports and open up its cloistered society.

Yet reforms hailed by some as proof of a new progressive trend have been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent, including the arrest of some of the very activists who campaigned for the right to drive, and Saudi Arabia remains one of the most restrictive countries for women.

Here are the most notable milestones in a nearly 30-year effort to end the driving ban:

6 November 1990: More than 40 Saudi women drive their cars in Riyadh in first public demonstration against the ban. They were imprisoned for a day, had their passports confiscated and some lost their jobs.

September 2007: Women activists led by Wajeha al-Huwaider and Fawzia al-Uyyouni submit a petition with more than 1,000 signatures to then-King Abdullah, asking for women to be allowed to drive.

8 March 2008: Huwaider films herself driving and posts it to YouTube. Watch the video here: here

17 June 2011: Manal al-Sharif and other activists inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings start a Facebook campaign called “Women2Drive”. About 70 cases of women driving are documented across the country over a two week period; some are arrested.

26 October 2013: Dozens of Saudi women get behind the wheel, sharing photos and videos online of them driving despite discouragement by the authorities. Some face penalties including fines, temporary detention, and confiscation of their vehicles.

30 November 2014: Activists Loujain al-Hathloul and Maysaa al-Amoudi are detained for 73 days an charged with terrorism-related crimes after attempting to drive into Saudi Arabia from the United Arab Emirates.

26 September 2017: King Salman orders preparations to be made for women to eventually be allowed to drive. At least two dozen activists receive phone calls instructing them not to comment on the decision, which some of them ignore.

May-June 2018: Saudi authorities arrest more than a dozen prominent women’s rights activists, including many who were involved in women driving campaigns, accusing them of suspicious contacts with foreign enemies. Activists and diplomats speculate that the arrests are a message to activists not to push demands out of sync with the government’s own agenda or aim at appeasing conservative elements opposed to reforms.

Reporting By Stephen Kalin; Editing by Ros Russell

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