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Power of protest, Saudi-style: From teen asylum seeker to crop tops and wheels


BEIRUT: The firestorm started by an 18-year-old Saudi Arabian woman seeking asylum in Thailand has shown the power of online protest — a tactic long championed by women in the conservative kingdom.

A social media campaign sprung up hours after Rahaf Mohammed al-Qunun posted on Twitter on Sunday that she feared her family would kill her if she was sent back to Saudi Arabia.

Spread by a loose network of global activists, #SaveRahaf tweets prompted Thailand within 36 hours to reverse a decision to force Qunun back to Kuwait and instead allow her to enter Thailand and seek asylum in a third country.

Here are some examples illustrating how Saudi women have used the internet to protest:


Manal al-Sharif and other activists started a Facebook campaign in 2011 called “Women2Drive” to fight a decades-old ban on women driving cars in Saudi Arabia, which was lifted last year. Al-Sharif was jailed and later released.

Snapchat video

After Saudi police briefly arrested a woman who appeared in a Snapchat video in 2017 wearing an “indecent” skirt and crop top, many Saudis sprang to her defence, lamenting double standards as unveiled foreign women were widely praised online.


Maryam al-Otaibi was jailed for more than 100 days in 2017 after leaving her male guardians — who can prevent Saudi women travelling, marrying, studying, and working – and also posted about it under the popular campaign hashtag #IAmMyOwnGuardian.

Female robot citizenship

Saudi women online scorned the government’s 2017 decision to grant citizenship to a female robot — a right denied to the children of Saudi women married to foreigners.


Al-Sharif launched the #Miles4Freedom campaign in 2018, calling on women around the world to log the miles they have driven as part of a petition to the King of Saudi Arabia to end male guardianship and free activists arrested for driving.

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