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.