The levity is interrupted by the bark of a police horn. We pull over. The cop walks up to the drivers side, and, flummoxed by the sight of a woman in a full-face veil at the wheel, scurries over to the passenger side to confer with Mohammad al Qatani. Mohammad steps out of the car with the cop, and is escorted to the waiting cruiser. Maha al Qatani films the scene with her iPhone, fearful that he will be taken away. Then she calls a friend to check in on her three kids, waiting at home. By this time we are surrounded by six police cruisers. Another cop leans into the passenger side window to bark at Maha al Qatani. “Does your husband know how to drive?” he asks. Al Qatani replies yes. “Then why was he in the passenger seat?”
Maha raises her normally quiet voice in defiance. “I am taking my rights. I am driving. Why do I have to rely on Indians and Pakistanis to drive me around?” she shoots back, referring to the common Saudi practice of hiring immigrant drivers.
The officer looks stricken. “I don’t know what to do,” he says plaintively. He has never been faced with a female driver before. “If I raise it up [the issue of her driving] it is wrong. If I let you go it is wrong.” Maha al Qatani just stares him down.
Driving, says al Qatani, is not a woman’s right but a human right. Driving, she says, “is just the first step.”