03 May 2014

BANGKOK, Thailand -- Saudi Arabian women scored a hilarious boost to
their campaign for the right to drive when an Islamist cleric became
an international laughingstock for insisting ovaries suffer damage if
women hold a steering wheel because it "pushes the pelvis upwards."



Saudi cleric Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Lohaidan's remarks in an
interview published on the Arabic-language news site sabq.org on
September 27, were quickly translated into English and went viral
across Internet, attracting mockery, insults and dismay.



His rant was highlighted further when "Reuters earlier wrongly
identified him as Sheikh Saleh bin Mohammed al-Lohaidan, a member of
the Senior Council of Scholars, one of the top religious bodies in the
birthplace of Islam," Reuters news agency said on September 29
correcting its initial report.



"By contrast, Sheikh Saleh bin Saad al-Lohaidan, the person quoted in
the sabq.org report, is a judicial adviser to an association of Gulf
psychologists," Reuters said in its newer update headlined: "Top Saudi
cleric says women who drive risk damaging their ovaries."



"If a woman drives a car, not out of pure necessity, that could have
negative physiological impacts, as functional and physiological
medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and
pushes the pelvis upwards," al-Lohaidan (also spelt al-Luhaydan) told
sabq.



"That is why we find those who regularly drive have children with
clinical problems of varying degrees," he said.



Only males can receive a driving license in Saudi Arabia.



If a female is caught driving, she can be fined and, in some cases, be
jailed and put on trial for allegedly staging a political protest
against the ban.



The sheikh's interview was his response to women in Saudi Arabia who
had launched a no-nonsense campaign on October 26 to allow females to
drive.



After his interview, the women's petition on http://oct26driving.com
was blocked from normal Internet access in Saudi Arabia on September
29, according to Reuters.



"Since there is no justification for the Saudi government to prohibit
adult women citizens who are capable of driving cars from doing so, we
urge the state to provide appropriate means for women seeking the
issuance of permits and licenses to apply and obtain them," their
petition says.



The women said their demand "has no anti-Islamic or political agenda,
for neither Islam nor the official laws of Saudi prohibit women from
driving. Islam and the Basic Law of Saudi Arabia both ensure that all,
regardless of gender, have the right to freedom of movement,"
according to their campaign's mission statement.



Saudis and foreigners responded to the sheik's interview by mocking
him and expressing insults on websites, Twitter, blogs and elsewhere
on Internet.



"Al-Luhaydan's statement drew immediate reaction on social media, with
many Saudis ridiculing his 'great scientific discoveries'," the Saudi
news site Al Arabiya reported on September 28.



"An Arabic Twitter hashtag
'Women_driving_affects_ovaries_and_pelvises' was created and is going
viral among Arab users," Al Arabiya said.



Twitter



Among the caustic comments and satirical jokes posted by the public,
the Twitter site included an observation by "kenny smith" on September
30 who said: "Best hashtag ever."



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Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist from San Francisco,
California, reporting news from Asia since 1978, and recipient of
Columbia University's Foreign Correspondent's Award. He is a co-author
of three non-fiction books about Thailand, including
"Hello My Big Big
Honey!" Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing
Interviews; 60 Stories of Royal Lineage; and Chronicle of Thailand:
Headline News Since 1946. Mr. Ehrlich also contributed to the final
chapter, Ceremonies and Regalia, in a new book titled
King Bhumibol
Adulyadej, A Life's Work: Thailand's Monarchy in Perspective.



His websites are:



Asia Correspondent



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(Copyright 2013 Richard S Ehrlich)