The veil behind the wheel in Saudi Arabia

Mon Jun 27, 2011 4:06pm EDT
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By Amena Bakr

RIYADH (Reuters Life!) - As Umm Ibrahim takes the wheel of her husband's white Hyundai, beads of sweat form beneath the black veil that covers her face and body.

Nervously turning the ignition, shifting into drive and easing her foot off the brake, she knows she's risking arrest. The simple act of driving for a woman is banned in Saudi Arabia.

"The day I get my driving license, I will open a driving school for women and I'll be one of the instructors, that's my dream," said Umm Ibrahim.

Last week, on the same day the 25 year-old mother of two chose to make a statement by taking her husband's car out for a spin, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton publicly supported "brave" Saudi women demanding the right to drive.

"What these women are doing is brave and what they are seeking is right, but the effort belongs to them. I am moved by it and I support them," Clinton said, responding to a letter sent by activist group Saudi Women for Driving.

She was also careful to stress that it was an issue for Saudis to determine for themselves.

The mutaween -- Saudi Arabia's religious police -- are constantly on the lookout for violators of the kingdom's conservative rules. There is no law explicitly forbidding women from driving but they are not allowed to obtain licenses, making it effectively illegal.

The penalty for those caught is a fine or a short detention.   Continued...

<p>Umm Ibrahim sits behind the wheel of her vehicle as she drives in Riyadh, an act that is banned in Saudi Arabia June 21, 2011. REUTERS/Amena Bakr</p>