Saudi regime protester Manal al-Sharif cancels US trip over death threats

Manal al-Sharif forced to pull out of ceremony to honour her activism

Los Angeles

A Saudi woman who publicly defied the country's ban on female drivers has been forced to cancel a planned trip to the United States after receiving multiple death threats and learning that she is the subject of a fatwa issued by a fundamentalist Muslim cleric.

Manal al-Sharif became a global symbol of the struggle for gender equality in the Middle East after a video of her driving through the streets of Khobar was uploaded to YouTube last April, at the height of the Arab Spring. She was later arrested and imprisoned for nine days.

On Wednesday this week she had been due to be honoured for her high-profile activism at an awards ceremony in Washington organised by Vital Voices, a US-based pressure group which campaigns for women's rights and has close ties to the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

But 48 hours before the event, organisers were told that Ms Sharif, a divorced single mother, had reluctantly decided to stay in Saudi Arabia, amid what appears to be growing fears for both her personal safety and that of her family. In an email, she said a recent filmed speaking appearance at the Oslo Freedom Forum, a human rights conference held annually in Norway, had brought a slew of threats from conservatives angered by her feminist critique of Saudi Arabia's highly-repressive laws and social conventions.

Tensions are also rising in advance of 17 June, the first anniversary of an organised "protest drive" that saw Ms Sharif and dozens of female supporters get behind the wheel in defiance of misogynistic laws which make it illegal for women to drive in the country.

Explaining her decision to stay at home, she said: "Threats I was faced with after speaking in Oslo made me take the decision to keep a low profile to be able to prepare for the first anniversary of 17 June."

It is not the first time Ms Sharif has been targeted for her activism. Last month, she told The Independent how her growing political profile had led to her losing a job at Aramco, a Saudi-controlled oil company where she had worked in information security for more than a decade.

She has since been the subject of a fatwa issued by Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Tarifi, a cleric who follows Wahhabism, one of the most unbending forms of the Muslim faith which has a huge following in the Islamic state. He declared Ms Sharif a "hypocrite," a designation which amounts to questioning her religious allegiance and therefore placing her safety at further risk.

Initial reports of her last-minute decision to cancel the US trip suggested that she had been the subject of threats by un-named "Saudi officials".

But in an email to The Independent, Ms Sharif stressed that no threats against had come directly from members of the country's government.

Despite her absence from Washington, Ms Sharif did not go entirely unrecognised at the Vital Voices ceremony which was to have seen five "heroines" of the Arab Spring receive medals.

When the four other honourees were called on to the stage at the Kennedy Center Opera House, they left a gap to represent where Ms Sharif should have been standing.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence