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Saudi women, in rare protest, drive vehicles on their own


RIYADH, Saudi Arabia -- In daring defiance of the Saudi tradition against women driving, about 70 veiled Saudi women gathered in front of a supermarket in Riyadh yesterday, dismissed their drivers, and drove in a convoy of cars before being stopped and detained by police a short time later.

"I couldn't believe my ears when madame asked me for the car keys and told me to get out and then drove away with the others," said a Sri Lankan driver who identified himself as T. R. Zein.

Saudis said that the demonstration for the right to drive was the first known open protest by Saudi women and that it was an exceedingly rare manifestation of public sentiment in this conservative Islamic nation.

Saudi officials said the women had been released after signing a pledge that they would not repeat their action elsewhere.

The demonstration came at a time when the presence of U.S. and other Western forces is stirring considerable debate here about whether to bring this country more in tune with the rest of the world. But many of the women involved in yesterday's protest stressed that it had nothing to do with the large presence of Westerners here.

Organizers of the demonstration said many of the women had gotten driver's licenses while in the United States or Europe. They said that many were highly educated and came from prominent families, a factor that may have figured in their treatment by the authorities.

The participants said they would repeat their actions.

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