SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) The name of a woman who live-tweeted her attempt to drive across the Saudi Arabian border has become an international trend, as rumours of her arrest circulate online.
On 30 November Saudi activist, Lujain Al-Hathlool, filmed herself driving in the United Arab Emirates with the intention of crossing the border back to her home country as a part of the ongoing ‘26 October‘ campaign, which challenges the Saudi ban on female drivers. The video has had over 800,000 views and over 3,000 comments on YouTube.
Al-Hathlool also documented her journey on Twitter, saying “follow me to find out what will happen at the border”. Arriving at the border with Saudi Arabia, she live-tweeted the moment when she was stopped by a Saudi customs officer at the border. Straightaway, Al-Hathlool’s name in Arabic became an international social trend.
She tweeted that officials had taken aside, and were making phone call after phone call. Hours went by. Her friend and UAE-based Saudi journalist Maysaa Al-Amoudi, drove to the border from Dubai to bring her supplies.
“Twenty-four hours spent on the border of Saudi,” Al-Hathlool tweeted to her 233,000 followers on 2 December. “They won’t give me back my passport and they won’t let me pass through and no word from the Ministry of Interior. Complete silence from all the officials”.
Since then, her timeline has been silent.
An Arabic hashtag that translates to “Lujain Al-Hathlool arrested” has been tweeted nearly 500,000 times, although BBC Trending was not able to confirm the arrest with the Saudi authorities.
But a statement by Human Rights Watch says activists have told the organisation that both Al-Hathlool and Al-Amoudi have been detained and it is calling on the Saudi authorities to release the two women. Al-Hathlool’s husband and family have not been able to reach her either, Saudi blogger Abdullah Al Dayhailan told BBC Trending.
The campaign calling for Saudi women’s right to drive has gathered global support, but the topic remains a contentious issue inside the kingdom and the online debate is just as divided.
Many of those who oppose female drivers saw that Al-Hathlool’s action showed contempt for state authority and disrespect towards Saudi culture. “Regardless of what we think of women driving, what Lujain is doing is like child’s play, she did not respect her society or her customs” one Saudi man tweeted.
“She knew darn well that by breaking the rules she would face some consequences,” another man commented.
But some Saudi men have expressed support for Al-Hathlool andwomen’s right to drive. “Lujain is on the border not because she has drugs in her handbag or because she’s carrying a bomb but, no it’s more dangerous than that…she’s driving a car,” tweeted one, with a sense of irony.
Others who have joined the debate suggested that Al-Hathlool is not actually breaking the law because she is driving with an Emarati licence that allows drivers to drive in any Gulf Cooperation Council country, including Saudi Arabia.
Although there is no clear law in Saudi Arabia which bans women from driving, Al-Hathlool’s legal standing is uncertain, says blogger Al Dayhailan.
“Although a religious fatwa is not legally-binding, it is still treated as such” he said.