Secretary of State Hillary Clinton originally chose what she referred to as "quiet diplomacy" concerning the Saudi Arabian women protesting the unwritten ban on their right to drive in the kingdom until the arrest of Manal al-Sharif, a Saudi technology consultant and mother on May 22nd. Supporters launched a campaign to free al-Sharif, collecting more than 100,000 signatures and calling on 156 countries for support. A few Saudi women even committed the crime themselves, turning the key in the ignition to begin a motorized protest (Dougherty). .
The Saudi Women for Driving, a coalition for women's rights activists, bloggers, and academics campaigning for the right to drive, expressed their disappointment by Clinton's public silence. Previously, Clinton announced women's rights a top issue for American diplomacy (Dougherty).
"Quiet diplomacy is not what we need right now," the group said in a letter. "What we need is for you, personally, to make a strong, simple, and public statement supporting our right to drive" (Dougherty). .
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland defended Clinton, saying, "There are times when it makes sense to do so publicly and there are times for quiet diplomacy" (Dougherty). .
Clinton pursued quiet diplomacy and chose to work behind the scenes and raise the issue only in a telephone conversation last week with Saudi Prince Saud al-Faisal. However, her stance on the issue caused many others to question her motives and accuse her of sidestepping the controversy to avoid angering the Saudi government at a time when the United States needs help on Mideast issues. The U.S. has avoid criticizing Saudi Arabia on many other issues, including the Arab Spring uprisings in other Mideast and North African nations (Dougherty). .
On June 3rd, the Saudi women sent Clinton a letter requesting her to "make a public statement supporting our right to drive. In a more recent letter, the women wrote, "Three days ago, on June 17, more Saudi women drove a car than ever before.