Saudi woman driver spared 10 lashes after King intervenes

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has overturned a sentence of 10 lashes handed down to an activist who defied the country's female driving ban, after fierce criticism that the ruling undermined his recent efforts to give women more rights in the conservative Muslim kingdom.

In an unprecedented move on Sunday, the 87-year-old ruler announced that women would be admitted into the country's all-male consultative assembly. Women would also have the opportunity to stand in municipal elections and vote for the first time.

The move was hailed by most Saudis as a great step forward, but the exuberance was short-lived.

Two days after the decree, a court sentenced Shaima Jastaina to 10 lashes for her participation in the 17 June Women2Drive campaign, when a handful of women got behind the wheel to try to force authorities to reverse the ban on women driving. Saudi Arabia remains the only country in the world that does not allow women to drive. People were outraged. Many perceived the court's sentence as a direct challenge to the King's desire to implement reform, while other women who took part in the rare day of dissent began to worry about their own fate.

"I was very worried when I read about Shaima," said one woman who spoke under the condition of anonymity. "When I drove, I was stopped and my husband questioned, and I thought it was all over. I was prepared to go to jail for my belief, even though it's not a crime. But I believe the King didn't want women to be punished for this."

Late on Wednesday, Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel, the wife of Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, reported on her Twitter account that the lashing had been cancelled. A Saudi official confirmed the decision to the Associated Press news agency, but did not elaborate on the reasons for the reversal of the sentence.

Many Saudis saw the King's swift action as a clear signal to the conservatives and religious hardliners where the ultimate power lies.

"This isn't about driving or anything like that," said Noura Al Essa, a college graduate. "This is how those religious people always try and make problems for the King to remind him that they have control.

"Believe me, it's not a coincidence that they made this ruling now just after the King has done so many wonderful things for women. They don't care about what is good for the country or for their wives and daughters. They only care about control."

Despite enthusiasm for the King's new reformist spirit, it came too late for municipal elections held across Saudi Arabia yesterday, which were reserved for male voters.

It was only the second time a nationwide poll has taken place in the kingdom, where the royal family has absolute power. Saudi Arabia does not have a parliament. Instead, it has a Shura Council, an assembly appointed by the King with a similar mandate to advise, but not legislate.

Even the local councils are only partly voted for by the people, with half the representatives appointed.

And though the government has made substantive efforts to raise the profile and significance of these elections, many citizens feel they are an exercise in futility as municipal councils can effect very limited change.

Only an estimated 1.2 million men have registered to vote out of 5 million who are eligible to do so. Women will be able to take part in the next round of municipal election in four years' time.

As well as outside pressure to speed up reform, King Abdullah is also seeking to insulate his nation against the anti-regime uprisings sweeping other Arab nations. Earlier this year, he announced a $93 billion package of jobs, incentives and services for Saudis.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before