CAIRO — International and local rights groups lashed out Tuesday at the arrest of a Saudi woman for defying the kingdom’s female driving ban, while other Saudi women posted video clips online showing themselves behind the wheel.

Having so far escaped the unrest sweeping the region, Saudi rulers have cracked down harder than usual on 32-year-old Manal al-Sherif after seeing her case become a rallying call for youths anxious for change.

Al-Sherif was arrested Sunday after a video clip was posted online of her much-publicized drive last week — part of an effort to bring attention to the Facebook and Twitter campaigns she helped organize to encourage women across Saudi Arabia to participate in a collective protest against the driving ban.

The Facebook page, called “Teach me how to drive so I can protect myself,” was removed after more than 12,000 people indicated their support for its call for women drivers to take to the streets June 17. The campaign’s Twitter account also was deactivated.

Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that bans women — both Saudi and foreign — from driving. The prohibition forces families to hire live-in drivers, and those who cannot afford the $300 to $400 a month for a driver must rely on male relatives to drive them to work, school, shopping or the doctor.

The issue is a highly emotional one in the kingdom, where women are also not allowed to vote, or even travel without their husbands’ or fathers’ permission.

The arrest prompted calls Tuesday for al-Sherif’s release from international rights groups as well as protests from local rights activists. Human Rights Watch warned the arrest will hurt the country’s image.

“Arresting a woman who drove her family around in a car and then showed it online opens Saudi Arabia to condemnation — and, in fact, to mockery — around the world,” said spokesman Christoph Wilcke.

“The longer she stays in prison, the more the kingdom will have to answer for.”

A local rights group, the Association of Saudi Women’s Rights, visited al-Sherif in the detention center in the eastern city of Dammam where she was ordered held for five days, and urged the Saudi government to “take a decisive stance and give women the right to drive their cars.”

“This is a natural right,” the group said.

Over the past couple of days, at least two young Saudi women appeared in online video clips driving their cars in support of al-Sherif and defiance of the ban.

One young woman, identified only as Ruba and dressed in the all-encompassing black abaya all women must wear in public, was shown driving inside a compound in Riyadh. “Ruba drove in Riyadh. Congratulations, Ruba,” the voice of her female companion is heard saying.