A car belonging to a Saudi woman was set on fire yesterday by a group of men who it is alleged were angry over the female motorist’s purchase of the vehicle.
31-year-old Salma Al-Sherif, who works as a cashier near the holy city of Mecca, claimed that her car was deliberately set alight by men “opposed to women drivers”. Al-Sherif had borrowed money from a neighbour to buy a car to support her family. She told Saudi newspaper Okaz that “half of [my] salary of 4,000 riyals [$1,067] was spent on a driver to take me to my workplace and drive my elderly parents”.
Everyone in her family including her husband encouraged Al-Sherif to obtain a driving a license once the ban on driving for women was lifted two weeks ago. The car was a “lifeline”, Al-Sherif said, which she had managed to secure using money she had earned herself.
But from day one of driving her car Al-Sherif was subjected to insults from men. Those insults, Al-Sherif said, “were on every tongue from people [I] did not expect”. She claimed she was threatened by people who insisted that it was wrong for her to drive.
In her statement to the police, Al-Sherif accused a 23-year-old man for deliberately setting her car on fire. Al-Sherif has “called on the authorities to stand firm against those who try to run society as they please in a barbaric way that doesn’t represent the tolerant religion of Islam”.
Whilst Al-Sherif has received an outpouring of support from Saudis on social media, with many posting pictures of her burning vehicle and denouncing the attack as a “terrorist act”, it’s unlikely that her ordeal will be the last.
Authorities have sought to show the driving reform had religious approval, with the kingdom’s top clerical council emphasising that the lifting of the ban was in line with Islamic values, something which is at odds with previous positions.
But many are still wary of a backlash from hardliners, amid a torrent of sexist comments against female drivers on social media.
Some 120,000 women have applied for driving licences, according to an interior ministry spokesman, but it remains unclear how many have been issued.
Those taking to the roads appear to be women who have swapped their foreign licenses for Saudi ones.