DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — It has been a little more than two years since women in Saudi Arabia last campaigned for the right to drive. Now activists are calling for women to get behind the wheel again Saturday, and they hope reforms made by the monarchy since then have readied the deeply conservative nation for change.
The reforms made by King Abdullah in recent years have been cautious, showing his wariness of pushing too hard against influential ultraconservatives. But given the overwhelming restrictions on women in the kingdom, even the tiny openings have had a resounding effect.
Perhaps one sign of change is the loudness of the backlash by conservatives against Saturday's driving campaign. About 150 clerics rallied outside one of the king's palaces this week, some accusing Abdullah's top ally the United States of being behind calls to let women drive. Saudi Arabia is the only nation that bans women from driving.
In the first major driving protest in 1995, some 50 female drivers were jailed for a day, had their passports confiscated and lost their jobs.
In June 2011, about 40 women drove in several cities in protest when a woman was arrested after posting a video of herself driving. Individual women continued to flout the ban, and one woman was arrested and sentenced to 10 lashes. The king overturned the sentence.