Ms. Sharif was arrested after two much-publicized drives last week to highlight the Facebook and Twitter campaigns she helped organize to encourage women across Saudi Arabia to participate in a collective protest scheduled for June 17.If she drove to promote the right to drive, that is the form of speech that is civil disobedience. It draws attention to the commission of the crime, and it's not surprising that it attracts arrest. Isn't that the purpose of conspicuous violation — to get arrested and make everyone notice and want to help you? This is working for Manal al-Sharif. But Howeidar's point is that she's really arrested for speaking out on Facebook, not for the driving per se. She wasn't treated like other female drivers, who are let off easily. And there's something wrong with targeting the person who used Facebook to organize.
The campaigns, which had attracted thousands of supporters — more than 12,000 on the Facebook page — have been blocked in the kingdom. Ms. Sharif’s arrest was very likely intended to give others pause before participating in the protests in a country where a woman’s public reputation, including her ability to marry, can be badly damaged by an arrest.
“Usually they just make you sign a paper that you will not do it again and let you go,” said Wajiha Howeidar, who recorded Ms. Sharif while driving on Thursday. “They don’t want anybody to think that they can get away with something like that. It is a clear message that you cannot organize anything on Facebook. That is why she is in prison.”
Isn't the real question is whether women should be allowed to drive, not whether organizing on Facebook incurs harsher punishment when you commit a crime? Think about some other crime — some crime that obviously should be a crime. I hesitate to describe a crime, but let's say some Saudi man thinks women who drive should be dragged out of their cars and beaten. He sets up a Facebook page to promote that opinion and gets 12,000 supporters. Then — twice — he drags a woman out of a car and beats her. Now, he is arrested. Let's say that in Saudi Arabia men who beat women for driving are normally just asked to promise not to do it again. Would you object to making an example out of the man who used Facebook?