RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – A satirical video by a Saudi comedian has become a viral hit – drawing international attention to the kingdom’s ban on women driving after many would-be protesters were stymied in their attempts to flout the ban this weekend because of a heavy police presence.
“No Woman, No Drive,” a video set to the tune of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry,” has gotten 3.7 million views and counting since it was posted on Saturday, the day of the planned driving ban.
It’s the most popular YouTube video in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries and has been tweeted from Europe to the U.S.
Described as “awesome” “funny” “rude” and “offensive” – the video has drawn the attention and a range of reactions from Saudi grandmothers to teenage girls.
‘In the family car, but back seat’
Created by 26-year-old Saudi comedian Hisham Fageeh, the song’s chirpy lyrics set to Marley’s whistling and clapping mock the driving ban:
“Say, Say, Say I remember when you used to sit
In the family car, but back seat
Ova-ovaries all safe and well
So you can make lots and lots of babies”
Good friends we’ve had and good friends we’ve lost
On the highway
In this bright future
You can’t forget your past
So put your car key away”
Umm Ahmed and her friend Badriya are two grandmothers in their 60s who share a stall in the Souk Al Owais market in Riyadh selling traditional beauty products like henna and oud (a perfumed wood women burn for fragrance). They said they watched the video on the popular messaging service Whatsapp – but they liked the original Bob Marley version much better.
“I don’t care if girls want to drive,” said Badriya. “But they ruined the song now because of this. The man with the long hair and big hat was much better. This Saudi boy doesn’t even know how to sing properly.”
Her friend Ahmed took particular offense to the comments that driving could potentially reduce a woman’s chances of fertility. “This must also apply to men’s testicles. Why only women? Did these people just come from the sky or from the wombs of their mothers?” she said.
In fact, the line about the ovaries was in response to a claim by one senior cleric that driving could cause women to harm their ovaries ahead of the planned driving protest.
More than 16,000 women signed an online petition in support of the campaign, but there were few women seen defying the tough regulations in the capital city Saturday. Only about a dozen videos and 50 other messages were received by the activists that organized the campaign purporting to show women flouting the ban on driving, professor and campaigner Aziza Youssef told the Associated Press.
After the low turn out, activists called for an open-ended ban and encouraged women to go on driving in public and post video and photos doing so online.
Using humor to tackle serious issue
Sheraz Abou Sulayman, a 39-year-old doing her MBA at Prince Sultan University in Riyadh, said she appreciated the video’s humor Monday. “I actually think that [the comedian] described an acute social phenomenon that is baffling our society in a comical way and did a great job. It was very funny.”
Hanan Abdullah, a 40-year old mother of two teenage daughters, also said she appreciated that the comedian was “tackling a serious matter through humor.”
“My 15-year-old daughter couldn’t understand why driving was being made into such a big deal, but when I showed her the video she got the point,” said Abdullah.
“The video highlights the wider social issues such as the way women are treated like ‘queens’ and women’s rights. It shows in a sarcastic way that women are treated like this because men want to control them, not protect them.”
A group of four 14-year-old schoolgirls at a private Saudi girls’ school in Riyadh discussed the issue on Whatsapp. The schoolgirls didn’t give their last names because of the sensitivity of the issue -- and also because they said they are scared of their parents.
“I think it’s offensive, but in a funny way,” wrote Sarah E. “Even though people have a right to express their opinions, the lyrics were very offensive to women.”
“I think that it’s sexist and shows the total control that men have over women here,” wrote Joud J.
“The video was portraying the typical stereotypical Saudi men who don’t want women to drive and come up with all sorts of excuses. The video was a funny spoof trying to show how sexist these kinds of men are without offending women,” said Iman S.
Dana H. agreed and liked the fact that they covered a Bob Marley song. “He supported human rights,” she said, “which is what this is all about.”