Two weeks ago, women in Saudi Arabia staged a protest against the country’s ban on female driving. The campaign that launched the protest, called Women2Drive, began in 2011 and has attempted to place pressure on the Saudi government to lift what they feel is an onerous restriction on women. Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s largest oil producers and a key American ally in the Middle East. Extempers often receive questions about Saudi Arabia concerning terrorism, the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and oil issues, but the issue of women’s rights may soon factor into those rounds as well. Saudi Arabia is one of the more conservative states in the Middle East and is still run by a king, with no elected national legislature. The kingdom staved off the unrest of the 2011 Arab Spring, but the government is worried that issues like women’s rights may harm the kingdom’s international profile and lead to larger protests against it in the near future.
This brief will talk a lot about the Women2Drive protests, but will put that debate in the context of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. It will explain the status of women in the kingdom, provide an overview of the Women2Drive protest, and then provide some analysis about the future of the Women2Drive movement and Saudi Arabia’s potential handling of the issue.