23 November 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:

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(Copyright 2013 Richard S Ehrlich)