RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Saudi officials stepped up warnings today over plans by women to challenge the male-only driving rules in the ultraconservative kingdom, saying that even online support for the protest could bring arrest.
The warnings came on the eve of the planned protest by Saudi women activists who have obtained driver’s licenses abroad. The Internet has been a key tool in reaching out to international media and organizing the demonstration, similar to one staged last year by a small group of women.
Though no specific Saudi law bans women from driving, the rules are enforced by Saudi clerics who hold far-reaching influence over the ruling monarchy and give it political legitimacy.
Mention of the strict Saudi laws against online political dissent significantly broadens the possible fallout from the expected campaign by Saudi women, who have pledged to get behind the wheel on Saturday in defiance of Saudi traditions enforced by the nation’s powerful Islamic religious establishment.
Saudi Arabia has adopted some reforms in recent years, including allowing women to sit on the national advisory council and a decision by King Abdullah to permit women to vote and run in municipal elections in 2015.
But the driving ban appears to retain the backing of senior clerics, who also refuse to amend codes such as requiring women to obtain a male guardian’s approval to travel.