Solidarity with Saudi women car drivers

The struggle for women's rights in Saudi Arabia put down an important marker on Friday when at least 29 women defied the country's de facto ban on driving.

The campaign has been inspired by Manal al-Sharif, a young mum and computer expert who has received international attention, and a week in jail, for posting a film of herself driving on YouTube.

Although women are not formally banned from driving, to all intensive purposes they are. Women who drive get harassed and arrested by the authorities. In 1990 50 Saudi women were sacked from their jobs and banned from foreign travel for organising a similar protest.

Saudi Arabia is a deeply reactionary country. Women are banned from voting and must get 'written permission from a male relative – even an underage son – to work, travel, seek treatment or study'.

Protests are banned and there is great fear about expressing even the most elementary of rights, especially if you are a women.

And yet... these handful of women are scaring the daylights of Saudi authorities fearful that any campaign for more equality could inspire calls for more widespread democratic reform.

They are right to be scared. As the Arab Spring highlights, once people who have been oppressed get a taste of freedom, who knows where things will end up…