Back at the beginning of the “Arab Spring”, when thousands of protesters filled Tahrir Square in Cairo, enthusiastic newspaper and TV reporters celebrated the power of “social media” to mobilize ordinary Egyptian citizens. Facebook, Twitter, and texting were the forces that would bring down the tyrant and usher in democracy, not just in Egypt but across the entire Arab world.
It’s important to remember, however, that social media, like any other extensions of human communication, are neutral tools. Anything that can arouse and motivate thousands or millions of people can be propagated more efficiently using Facebook and Twitter. Anti-fascists, Green activists, Nazis, Al Qaeda — any group can leverage the power of electronic media to be more effective.
The latest activists to harness the power of the new media are the misogynists of Saudi Arabia, who are mobilizing on Facebook to suppress the growing popular campaign mounted by Saudi women who demand the right to drive:
Saudi Arabia: Facebook Campaign, Let’s Beat Up Female Drivers
(ANSAmed) — Rome, May 25 — Thousands of Saudi men are “gearing up” to go to “beat up” all the women who will dare to breach the driving ban scheduled for June 17, when thousands, according to the intentions posted on social networks, will challenge the law to claim the right to move by car without a driver. The “Iqal campaign”, named after the rope Saudi men use to hold their headgear, is travelling on Facebook and has already achieved thousands of supporters.
The website of Algerian daily El Watan reported that some of the supporters are proposing the idea of gifting entire cases of “iqal” to the young to place them along the roads of Riyadh and other cities in the Kingdom to “beat up” the impertinent females caught driving. But many have already made preparations: shops have been taken by assault, according to some web surfers who report that iqal prices have risen since the start of the campaign.
The initiative is gaining broad resonance in the Saudi press, which generally speaking supports women and their desire to drive. Al Watan reported that on Okaz writer Abdo Khal deplores the enforceable ban on female drivers and said that he is not aware, as regards the campaign by “thugs”, whether it is better to “laugh or cry”, while on al-Watan an editorialist, Ahmed Sayed Atif, suggested pursuing female drivers “without a driving license”.
Meanwhile a group of intellectuals launched a petition to set free Manal al-Charif, one of the promoters of the ‘Women2drivecampaign’ campaign who was arrested on Saturday because she was filmed while driving and then posted the video on Youtube. Set free after a few hours, Manal, a 32-year-old IT expert, was again arrested on Sunday morning and charged with “inciting women” to drive.
In the video posted on Youtube, Manal claimed that “no Islamic law prevents women from driving”, and added that the ban is the fruit of the ultra-conservative regime. But the iqal campaign shows that it is not only the regime, but also a macho mentality rooted in society that women have to fight against to gain emancipation, a fight that now starts from the right to drive but which in truth chases after much more important achievements, such as the right to vote, to work independently or to choose a husband. A right which may be, compared to the “iqal campaign”, much more desirable to them.
Hat tip: Insubria.