Woman who defied Saudi regime cancels US trip over death threats (INDEPENDENT UK) GUY ADAMS LOS ANGELES 06/08/12)
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Driving ban protester Manal al-Sharif forced to pull out of ceremony
to honour her activism
A Saudi woman who publicly defied the country´s ban on female drivers
has been forced to cancel a planned trip to the United States after
receiving multiple death threats and learning that she is the subject
of a fatwa issued by a fundamentalist Muslim cleric.
Manal al-Sharif became a global symbol of the struggle for gender
equality in the Middle East after a video of her driving through the
streets of Khobar was uploaded to YouTube last April, at the height
of the Arab Spring. She was later arrested and imprisoned for nine
On Wednesday this week she had been due to be honoured for her high-
profile activism at an awards ceremony in Washington organised by
Vital Voices, a US-based pressure group which campaigns for women´s
rights and has close ties to the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.
But 48 hours before the event, organisers were told that Ms Sharif, a
divorced single mother, had reluctantly decided to stay in Saudi
Arabia, amid what appears to be growing fears for both her personal
safety and that of her family. In an email, she said a recent filmed
speaking appearance at the Oslo Freedom Forum, a human rights
conference held annually in Norway, had brought a slew of threats
from conservatives angered by her feminist critique of Saudi Arabia´s
highly-repressive laws and social conventions.
Tensions are also rising in advance of 17 June, the first anniversary
of an organised "protest drive" that saw Ms Sharif and dozens of
female supporters get behind the wheel in defiance of misogynistic
laws which make it illegal for women to drive in the country.
Explaining her decision to stay at home, she said: "Threats I was
faced with after speaking in Oslo made me take the decision to keep a
low profile to be able to prepare for the first anniversary of 17
It is not the first time Ms Sharif has been targeted for her
activism. Last month, she told The Independent how her growing
political profile had led to her losing a job at Aramco, a Saudi-
controlled oil company where she had worked in information security
for more than a decade.
She has since been the subject of a fatwa issued by Sheikh Abdul Aziz
al-Tarifi, a cleric who follows Wahhabism, one of the most unbending
forms of the Muslim faith which has a huge following in the Islamic
state. He declared Ms Sharif a "hypocrite," a designation which
amounts to questioning her religious allegiance and therefore placing
her safety at further risk.
Initial reports of her last-minute decision to cancel the US trip
suggested that she had been the subject of threats by un-named "Saudi
But in an email to The Independent, Ms Sharif stressed that no
threats against had come directly from members of the country´s
Despite her absence from Washington, Ms Sharif did not go entirely
unrecognised at the Vital Voices ceremony which was to have seen
five "heroines" of the Arab Spring receive medals.
When the four other honourees were called on to the stage at the
Kennedy Center Opera House, they left a gap to represent where Ms
Sharif should have been standing. (©independent.co.uk 06/08/12)
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