If this year's Arab freedom movements had a soundtrack, it'd be an eclectic assortment, from the densely operatic story line that saw the deposement of Hosni Mubarak, to the thunderous mortars and bomb blasts of Libya, to the staccato work of government snipers in Syria. The most recent track would likely prove to be among the more modest: the car horns currently being honked across Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has largely been immune to the uprisings and revolutions sweeping the region: Minor rumblings by the Shiite minority in the Eastern Province were quickly quieted, and the government handed out billions of dollars to citizens in a pre-emptive measure to quell any would-be dissent. But a campaign by Saudi women claiming the right to drive -- the conservative Gulf monarchy is the only country in the world that forbids women to operate automobiles -- threatens to shake up the status quo.
As in neighboring countries, the protests are relying on civil disobedience: One of the organizers of the movement, Manal al-Sharif, was arrested by Saudi authorities on Sunday, May 22, after twice filming herself driving a car in her hometown of Dammam and posting the videos to YouTube. Despite the demonstrative arrest, the movement shows little sign of slowing down: A lively Twitter campaign named Women2Drive is calling for women across Saudi Arabia to take to the streets (in automobiles) on June 17.
The stakes may not seem as high as those that have toppled dictators elsewhere in the region, but the Saudi monarchy is quickly moving to extinguish the threat to its absolute rule. And that includes offering a blanket defense of the status quo, women-free roads included. From Riyadh's perspective, there are apparently plenty of good reasons -- theological, sociological, biological -- that women shouldn't be allowed to get behind the wheel. The Saudi monarchy has seen fit in recent months to trot each out for a spin in the national media (exclusively owned, natch, by Saudis close to the royal family).
All in all, it's an impressive display of pseudo-intellectual apologetics. Judges for the Saudi Pulitzers have no doubt already taken note, but here's a digest for the rest of us.