BANGKOK, Thailand -- Police in Saudi Arabia stopped and fined at least 16 women who intentionally drove cars on Saturday (Oct. 26) after the monarchy and Islamist clerics refused to support demands to give drivers' licenses to females.

Police had received an advisory describing how to deal with female drivers, including a suggestion that they should be taken into a side street, issued a warning, made to promise not to drive again, and their car keys should be given to a male guardian, according to the British Broadcasting Corporation.

"Police stopped six women driving in Riyadh, and fined them 300 riyals (about 80 US dollars) each," said the capital's police deputy spokesman, Colonel Fawaz al-Miman, according to Agence France-Presse.

Police stopped six other women in Eastern Province, plus two in Jeddah and two more elsewhere in the kingdom, local media reported.

More than 60 women claimed to have driven on Saturday, activists said.

Aziza Youssef, a Saudi university professor and activist, said 13 videos plus 50 phone messages from women showed or claimed females drove cars that day, Associated Press reported.

"Youssef said she had decided not to take part in the protest drive, after being called by the authorities," the BBC reported.

"I went to the grocery shop near the house," Mai al-Sawyan in Riyadh told the BBC.

Several days before the protest, about 100 Sunni Islamist clerics gathered at the royal court in Riyadh to condemn the campaign as a plot to destabilize the country.

"It is known that women in Saudi are banned from driving, and laws will be applied against violators," interior ministry spokesman Gen. Mansur al-Turki told AFP last week.

Saudi Arabia is the world's only country where women are not allowed to drive.

Some males who favor equal rights supported the campaign, while others simply hoped it would cut the financial cost and criminal risk involved in hiring male taxi drivers and private car operators to transport females.

Basic trips from home to shops, schools, offices, hospitals and elsewhere often include complicated scheduling problems, making the ban unpopular among many families.

The protest on Saturday was the third since 1990 when about 50 women broke the ban, resulting in several arrests and many losing their jobs.


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.

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(Copyright 2013 Richard S Ehrlich)