‘No Woman, No Drive’: Saudi Arabian music video spoofs ban on female drivers

October 27, 2013

Saudi Arabian performer Hisham Fageeh, well known on the Arabic-speaking Web for his funny YouTube videos, which often contain a degree of social commentary, has posted a new video spoofing his country's practice of forbidding women from attaining driver's licenses. Fageeh parodies the Bob Marley song "No woman, no cry" with lyrics lampooning Saudi Arabia's car-related gender restrictions, which Saudi women are challenging this week with a mass protest drive.

It's in English (with Arabic subtitles) and it's dead-on. Here's the video, followed by a bit of background:

Regular readers may recognize Fageeh, who sometimes appears on the highly popular Saudi YouTube video series La Yekhtar, a skit-based program that uses comedy with a touch of social commentary to explore life for young people in Saudi Arabia. We've previously profiled La Yekhtar, hosted by Fahad Albutairi, who also appears in Fageeh's video above.

This video, like La Yekhtar itself, may surprise some Westerners, who typically only hear about Saudi Arabia in the context of oil, extremism or its severe gender-based restrictions. But there's much more to the country than that, and not just because the music and humor is much better than you'd expect from the common depiction of Saudi Arabia as "backwards." As Fageeh told the outlet Euronews, "If I’m being ambitious, I’d like ... for people to think that Arabs and Saudis can joke and they can laugh. I think that’s what is really important to us – that people abroad understand that.”

It's also a reminder that some Saudi men do actively support women's efforts for greater rights. When women drove in protest in 2011, many had brothers or husbands sitting in  the passenger seats, taking photos and videos to help broadcast the demonstration and further the movement. The video nicely skewers not just the restrictions but, ever so subtly, the ideas behind it: that women are fragile and must be protected by men in ways that also just happen to put them under male dominance, that women exist primarily to serve men and reproduce, and above all that the driving restrictions are means of forcing women to submit even their freedom of movement to male control.

Read more about how Saudi women are challenging the driving ban – and how that effort has gained them some real influence.

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Caitlin Dewey | October 27, 2013