A Delightful Pain on the Ass

Everyone knows that women in Saudi Arabia can’t drive, at least in the cities. I learned today that women riding bicycles is also frowned upon, but as with their driving cars, there’s not actually a law that forbids it, just custom and a mentality that leads officials toward the officious: “If I think it’s not proper, then it must be illegal.” I do realize that this sentiment is not unknown to LEOs in the US and UK, currently about taking photographs, but this is about Saudi Arabia.

Today’s Saudi Gazette nicely translates a piece from the Arabic daily Al-Watan. It’s about a Saudi woman who doesn’t think much of the way cultural preferences seem to get translated into pseudo-law. She’s been happily playing by ‘the rules’ while creating consternation among the enforcers. Nothing she does is outright illegal; everything she does is with a pretty amazing sense of humor, I think.

She also seems to be winning her argument and an audience. Do read the entire article.

Moudhi riding on a donkey
Abdullah Nasser Al-Fouzan

MOUDHI, a noted Riyadh secondary school headmistress, is continuing in her five-year quest to persuade the relevant folk that women have as much right to drive a car as men, furnishing them with the evidence piece by piece, showing that the benefits outweigh the perils. The persistent failure of her previous efforts, however, led her to turn to more practical methods, and so it was that she recently got behind the wheel of a car and drove off into the streets of the capital.

When stopped by police Moudhi produced her international driving license, but the failure of officers to be persuaded by such a document led to a lengthy exchange during which Moudhi showed them that their reasoning was more fragile than a spider’s web. Unmoved, the police told her that she was required to have a driver to protect her and help her should she find herself in difficulties, such as her car breaking down.

“Okay…,” Moudhi said. “We’ll see…”

A few days later Moudhi got behind the wheel again, only this time, seated in the back of the car, was her foreign driver. When the police stopped her — along with the young men who had been pursuing her down the street — officers believed the man in the back to be her bodyguard, and so were taken aback along with the rest of the gathering crowd when Moudhi told them he was her driver, there to “protect her and help her if the car broke down.”

“Isn’t that what you told me I had to do when you stopped me last time?” Moudhi said as perplexed officers glanced at each other.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, Policing, , ,
John Burgess
About John Burgess
John Burgess retired after 25 years as a US Foreign Service Officer, serving predominantly in the Middle East. He contributed 35 pieces to OTB between February 2006 and April 2014. He was the proprietor of the influential Crossroads Arabia until his death in February 2016.


  1. steve says:

    Brave lady. Driving in Riyadh used to be scary. Hard to imagine it on a donkey. I remember talking with a couple of Saudi officers about our women driving. I guess maybe we were a bad influence.


  2. Franklin says:

    Good for her. Progress is always slow and sometimes things move backwards. But a sense of humor can go a long way in these types of situations.

  3. mpw280 says:

    Great that she is “sticking it to the man”, hope she continues and doesn’t get in too much trouble. mpw

  4. dutchmarbel says:

    I found a youtube videoclip from a piece about Hissa Hilal. It’s a clip from a Dutch show with with (really badly translated) English subs.

    I like to think that that’s how things change: small steps, from the population, slowly growing in power.