Daring to Drive | Manal Al-Sharif

Summary of: Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening
By: Manal Al-Sharif


Be prepared to embark on a journey through the life of Manal al-Sharif, a brave woman who fought for her right to drive in Saudi Arabia, defying the nation’s strict customs. This summary of ‘Daring to Drive: A Saudi Woman’s Awakening’ takes the reader through al-Sharif’s whirlwind experiences of activism and change. Gain an understanding of the harsh realities faced by women in Saudi Arabia, including restrictions on freedom, mobility, and equality. Witness the significant cultural, political, and social implications of al-Sharif’s choices and how they sparked a movement demanding for change.

Driving While Female

Manal al-Sharif’s account of defying Saudi Arabian custom by driving, her subsequent arrest, and fight for women’s right to drive.

It was 2 a.m. when the secret police showed up at Manal al-Sharif’s home demanding she come to the police station for “driving while female.” The day before, al-Sharif had been detained for five hours and forced to sign a paper promising not to drive on Saudi land again. But after news of her arrest spread on social media, the secret police came back to her home, insisting that she come with them.

Al-Sharif, the only woman working in the information security group at the Western-style compound owned by the Saudi Arabian Oil Company (Aramco), knew that leaving without her “official guardian,” a male member of her family, was a red flag. Women were not allowed to conduct official business without a chaperone, and the police’s willingness to separate her from her brother was concerning.

Before leaving in the police car, al-Sharif contacted a CNN journalist to broadcast what was happening, ensuring that she wouldn’t disappear. The police took her to a station much further away from her home, but she was determined to fight for women’s right to drive.

Al-Sharif’s story sheds light on the rigid gender roles and customs in Saudi Arabia, but also on the bravery and persistence it takes to challenge them.

The Price of Driving While Female in Saudi Arabia

Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi Arabian woman was interrogated, humiliated, and sent to prison for driving. Her story highlights the oppressive reality for women in Saudi Arabia whose love for their king is evaluated by their loyalty to his policies. Officials questioned and harassed her, confiscating her belongings before locking her up with a female guard in a room reeking of filth. Transported to a prison with men with concealed faces, she feared that she would never return. The prison warden taught her a lesson for appearing unveiled in a newspaper photo and shamed her family and religion. Al-Sharif’s experience revealed that driving as a woman in Saudi Arabia was a criminal offense, leaving her with a fitful sleep surrounded by cockroaches in a room filled with foreign women, oblivious to the outside world that knew of her arrest.

Breaking Barriers in Saudi Arabia

A memoir of a young girl’s journey to becoming a leading activist in Saudi Arabia, despite cultural and religious barriers.

Manal al-Sharif never anticipated that she would become an activist fighting for change in the religious and cultural norms of Saudi Arabia. Raised in a poor family in Mecca, she spent most of her childhood confined to her family’s apartment due to cultural beliefs that prohibit girls from going out alone. But amidst the restrictions, she found solace in reading books and playing soccer on her uncle’s rooftop.

Despite the challenges imposed by cultural and religious norms, al-Sharif’s mother ensured that all of her children received an education. She also encouraged her daughter to challenge the patriarchal system by insisting that school officials register her son even when his father wasn’t present. In addition, al-Sharif’s Libyan heritage allowed her mother to retain some independence, which was uncommon in Saudi Arabia, where women weren’t allowed to drive and relied solely on men for most of their needs.

As a devoutly religious teenager, al-Sharif zealously followed the religious tenets even if it meant giving up drawing portraits or reporting her brother’s infractions to her father. However, the restrictions imposed by the government became more apparent as their move towards prosperity and modernization halted with the beheadings of 63 fundamentalist rebels in Mecca’s Grand Mosque in 1980. New restrictions imposed by the government limited women’s freedom, hindering their access to education and job opportunities.

Moreover, religious police became more powerful, and the textbooks taught in schools were based on violent ideologies that were later adopted by terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS. The police prevented young girls from leaving a burning school in 2012 due to improper coverings, leading to the death of 15 girls. The environment became even more restrictive with the requirement of head-to-toe coverings for female students, preventing them from moving freely.

Despite all these hindrances, al-Sharif became a leading activist, fighting for the rights of Saudi Arabian women. In 2012, she was arrested for driving, which was forbidden to women. Her activism earned her international recognition, and she continues to inspire women globally to challenge the status quo.

A Journey of Transformation

Al-Sharif’s transformation from a radical extremist to a rational thinker is a compelling story. Her journey began when she chose computer science as her area of study and initially frowned upon the behavior of female students on campus. However, reading online articles criticizing her extreme ideology allowed her to rethink her beliefs. Her epiphany came when she witnessed 15 of her countrymen among the attackers during the 9/11 attacks. This event prompted her to let go of her dogmatic views and emerge as a transformed individual.

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