Manal al-Sharif is a women’s rights activist from Saudi Arabia and is one of the primary organizers of the Women2Drive campaign, which advocates for women’s right to drive in Saudi Arabia. She garnered international attention after posting a video on YouTube of herself, driving, in an act of civil disobedience. In retaliation, the Saudi government detained al-Sharif and charged her with “disturbing public order" and “inciting public opinion." She was released nine days later, after an international campaign on her behalf.
Al-Sharif is an outspoken critic of the Saudi dictatorship’s institutionalized discrimination against women. In 2011, she cofounded the Women2Drive campaign, which called upon Saudi women to engage in civil disobedience by driving their cars in an effort to pressure the Saudi monarchy into issuing an official decree granting women the right to drive.
In May 2011, al-Sharif filmed herself driving through the Saudi city of Khobar and posted the video on YouTube and Facebook. The video has been viewed more than a million times in Saudi Arabia and abroad, and sparked a renewed conversation about women’s rights in Saudi Arabia. Shortly after publishing the video, al-Sharif was detained. Over 4,500 Saudis signed a petition to King Abdullah demanding her release. After sustained pressure from domestic and international groups, al-Sharif was released on the conditions that she post bail, return for questioning upon request, and refrain from driving and from speaking to the media.
Beyond the Women2Drive campaign, al-Sharif has remained an active critic of the Saudi authorities. The New York Times described al-Sharif's campaign as a "budding protest movement" that the Saudi government tried to "swiftly extinguish," attributing al-Sharif's detention to the Saudi authorities' fear of a wider protest movement in the country. Foreign Policy named al-Sharif one of the “Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2011,” and in 2012, she was one of TIME’s “100 Most Influential People.” She is also a Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent Laureate.