A remarkable thing happened this past May in Riyadh. Officers belonging to Saudi Arabia’s ever-zealous religious police, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, ordered an abaya-clad young woman out of a shopping mall for wearing nail polish. That in itself wasn’t so unusual. The surprise was what came next: the young woman stood her ground. She told the men they had no right to harass her, filmed the confrontation on her cellphone, and posted it on YouTube, where it quickly went viral.
Public protests like hers may still be rare in Saudi Arabia, but they are getting less so. Manal al Sharif, a divorced mother, was employed by the oil giant Saudi Aramco. Last year she was arrested for daring to drive a car, and her case drew worldwide attention. When the organizers of a human-rights forum invited her to Oslo to receive the Václav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent, her bosses warned that she would lose her job if she insisted on attending. She quit and went to Oslo.
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