By Nabih Bulos
Los Angeles Times
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Despite months of an intensely orchestrated feel-good campaign by the Saudi government regarding the lifting of the ban on female drivers, not everyone is on board with women in the drivers seat.
From the very first day 31-year-old Salma Barakati got behind the wheel of her car after Saudi Arabia lifted the ban on women driving, the men in her village near Mecca would gather around her and unleash a torrent of insults.
The insults soon turned to threats. Then, less than 10 days after women were allowed to drive, a neighbor woke up Barakati in the middle of the night: Her car was on fire.
“The men of the neighborhood burned the car because they are all against (women) driving, they don’t agree with it,” she said in a video shared on Twitter, her voice shaking as flames engulfed her vehicle.
“Save me from them, take back my rights from them,” she pleads with King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, thought to be the primary force behind a modernization drive that included the ban’s overturn.
Despite months of an intensely orchestrated feel-good campaign by the government, the smoldering remains of Barakati’s car offered the starkest illustration that not all are on board with women in the driver’s seat.
Grumbling about the ban also hints at the resistance facing Salman and his son as they upend decades-old social mores and bring changes to Saudi society that much of the world has long taken for granted.
It was last September when the government decreed it would allow women to drive, reversing a policy in place since 1957 and which had become a potent symbol of women’s oppression in the kingdom.
That Riyadh was eager to reap a public relations win from the decree was clear from the preparations around the announcement: a reading of the decree on live television was accompanied by a lavish media event in Washington. It was reported to have used Cambridge Analytica, the British firm notorious for social media manipulation, to massage the blow to the country’s ultraconservatives.