Saudi traffic police have fined several car owners after six women were found defying the kingdom's male-only driving rules, a Saudi daily reported on Wednesday. The fines in Eastern Province coincide with a campaign called by women's rights activists to challenge the ban on women driving in the conservative Islamic kingdom late next month.
Traffic police issued fines totalling 5,400 riyals for allowing "an unqualified person to drive", al-Sharq newspaper reported, quoting an acting police spokesman. "The cases were stopped near the beach and in uninhabited areas that are still being developed," Major Mansour al-Shakra said. "They were driving for fun and not to learn how to drive."
No laws explicitly ban Saudi women from driving, but citizens must use locally issued licenses. These are not issued to women, making it in effect illegal for them to drive. Women who have defied the rules in the past have also faced charges of organising political protests, which are also prohibited in the monarchy, where there are no political parties and the only elections are for city councils.
A group of Saudi activists last week called on women to get behind the wheel on October 26 to challenge the ban. At least two similar campaigns in the past two years have failed to bring change, with the authorities detaining several women and making them sign pledges not to drive again. Saudi Arabia is a conservative monarchy backed by religious scholars. It upholds an austere form of Sunni Islam and gives wide powers to clerics who dominate the judicial system and run their own police squad to enforce religious morals.
King Abdullah has pushed some cautious social reforms in Saudi Arabia, including efforts to bring more women into the workforce and to give them a voice in policy making by appointing them to the advisory Shoura Council.