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Manal al-Sharif


Manal al-Sharif

Who is she?:

A Saudi woman who was instrumental in launching the nationwide campaign in which women are fighting for the right to drive. In May 2011, al-Sharif was filmed by another women's rights activist, Wajeha al-Huwaider, driving the streets of Khobar in defiance of the ban on women behind the wheel. After the video was posted online, she was arrested and imprisoned for nine days. She was named one of TIME magazine's 100 most influential people in the world for 2012.


April 25, 1979, in Mecca. Grew up in a religious household, and as a child burned her brother's pop-music cassettes after mullahs preached that the music was satanic. She became more extremist than the rest of her family. She has said that the 9/11 terrorist attacks changed her perspective on Wahhabism: "The extremists told us it was God's punishment to America, I said to myself, 'Something is wrong. There is no religion on earth that can accept such mercilessness, such cruelty.'" She also listened to one of her brother's tapes one day before she was about to dub over it with a lecture on Islam, and thought that the beautiful music reflected how isolated she was in her world.

Personal life:

Graduated from King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah with a bachelor's degree in computing. Married a co-worker at her company, Aramco, at age 25. Divorced without her consent, she has said, which is permissible in her society. Has a 6-year-old son. She has said that her divorce was also a turning point in which she stopped deferring to the men in her life to make any decisions for her -- in Saudi Arabia, a male guardian's permission is needed for everything from leaving the country to attending school. "It took me a long, long time to break the chains that's inside me," she has said.

Political affiliation:

Al-Sharif started a pressure group called My Right to Dignity, which aims to bring greater freedoms to women in the strict Islamist state. She is the international face of the country's Women2Drive movement that campaigns for women's right to get behind the wheel -- and highlights other ways in which Saudi women are denied their rights, including the only recent decision by < King Abdullah to allow women to vote or hold office come 2015 and other gender segregation that is ingrained in the society.


She worked for a decade at oil company Aramco, but the computer scientist was fired after she went to speak at the Freedom Forum in Oslo about her driving protest. If she chooses to leave Saudi Arabia to find work, she could lose custody of her son. She also lost her house in an Aramco employees' village.


Al-Sharif has been dealt many challenges because of her decision to keep pursuing rights for all Saudi women. In addition to losing her job and facing the troubling question of how she's going to take care of her son, she receives regular death threats and Saudi cleric Shaikh Abdul Aziz Al Tarifi issued a fatwa declaring her a “hypocrite.” She made a 2012 presentation at the Oslo World Freedom Forum, where she was awarded the Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent, where she ended her speech with the words "the rain begins with a single drop." Still, she has become so concerned about her family's safety that she skipped a summer 2012 driving protest in her country.


"I measure the impact I make by how harsh the attacks are. The harsher the attacks, the better I am doing."
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