A song satirising Saudi Arabia’s driving ban for women has become a surprise internet favourite, getting close to seven million hits on YouTube since being launched on Saturday to coincide with a protest against the rule.
“It has exceeded all our expectations”, Hisham Fageeh, the 26-year-old comedian behind the hit, said.
“Say I remember when you used to sit, in the family car, but backseat,” the song begins after Mr Fageeh, dressed in a white thawb cloak and traditional red-chequered scarf, introduces himself as a singer and social activist.
Mr Fageeh will be aware of the fine line he is walking with his satire. Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, is an absolute monarchy that forbids political protests. As a result, protests are rare in Saudi Arabia. Protest songs are even rarer.
The idea for “No Woman, No Drive” – an adaptation of Bob Marley’s famous reggae hit, “No Woman, No Cry” – came to the young Saudi comedian in the shower. “Like all good ideas”, he said.
Yet the actual writing and production only happened months later when he was shooting a segment in London, with his friends Fahad Albutairi and Alaa Wardi. They realized Twitter was lighting up with messages about the 26 October campaign to defy the no-driving ban in Saudi Arabia. It also happened to be Mr Fageeh’s 26th birthday.
“So we thought, let’s do the video. We made the whole thing in four to five days,” he said.
The lyrics include lines such as “ovaries all safe and well, so you can make lots and lots of babies”, in reference to a Saudi clerk who claimed driving would hurt women’s reproductive capacity. They also mock the social structure in Saudi Arabia where women need a male guardian’s permission to leave the house, marry, work, open a bank account or travel.
On Saturday, 16 women were stopped and fined for driving. They and their male guardians had to pledge to abide by the rule – which isn’t actually a law – in the future.
Yet Mr Fageeh has encountered no trouble and said the response has been quite the opposite.
“We’ve had nothing but positive feedback,” he said.
“We’ve had a lot of support and love from a lot of different people across the spectrum.”
It’s quite a surprise for the Saudi-American comedian, who completed high school in the US, starting just after 9/11. That period provided ample material for when he launched his comedy career in Washington and New York. But real success came in his native Saudi Arabia after he started a web series about a conservative, racist Saudi character that caught on. Now fame is overwhelming him. “I don’t know how to deal with it,” he said, joking that if it all goes awry he can make a living singing the song dressed as a clown at birthday parties.