Maronite patriarch gets red-carpet welcome in Riyadh

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Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi talks with Saudi Minister of State for Arab Gulf Affairs Thamer Al-Sabhan. (SPA)
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Updated 13 November 2017
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Maronite patriarch gets red-carpet welcome in Riyadh

BEIRUT/RIYADH: The Lebanese head of the Maronite Catholic church, Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi, arrived to a red-carpet welcome in the Saudi capital on Monday.

Though he described his visit as “the first of its kind,” Al-Rahi said there has been continuous correspondence between the Maronite patriarchate and the Kingdom.

He thanked Walid Bukhari, minister plenipotentiary at the Saudi Foreign Ministry, for helping to prepare for the visit.

“We hope this visit will benefit Lebanon at all levels,” Lebanon’s National News Agency quoted Al-Rahi as saying.

“The Kingdom has long supported Lebanon… Relations between us are based on friendship and brotherhood.”

After meeting with the minister of state for Arab Gulf affairs, Thamer Al-Sabhan, Al-Rahi met with the Lebanese community in Riyadh at his country’s embassy.

Lebanon’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Abdul Sattar Issa, will hold a dinner in honor of the patriarch and his accompanying delegation.

On Tuesday, Al-Rahi will meet with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who will hold a lunch in the patriarch’s honor.

Al-Rahi will also meet on Tuesday with Saad Hariri, who resigned as Lebanon’s prime minister last week, before leaving Riyadh for Rome to attend ecclesiastical meetings.

The Maronite sect is Lebanon’s largest Christian community and the Middle East’s largest Catholic church.

The patriarchate’s media spokesman Walid Ghayyad told Arab News that the visit is “historic and exceptional.”

Al-Rahi had planned his visit before Hariri announced his resignation in Riyadh on Nov. 4. Ghayyad said Al-Rahi will ask Hariri why he resigned, and will inform Lebanese President Michel Aoun about the outcome of their talks.

“The patriarch represents all the patriarchs and Christians of the East. He is carrying a message of love and openness to Saudi Arabia, which is now witnessing further openness and positive changes,” said Ghayyad, who is accompanying Al-Rahi.

“We thank the Kingdom for inviting the patriarch on this momentous visit, especially since it complements… historical relations between the two countries.”


Saudi female bikers ready to chart a new course

Updated 22 min 41 sec ago
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Saudi female bikers ready to chart a new course

  • Saudi Arabia’s female motorcyclists await clarification on licenses
  • The royal decree in September 2017 that gave women the right to drive in the Kingdom from June 2018 stipulated that the laws on driving would be equal for men and women

JEDDAH: Almost seven months since Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on female drivers, women hoping to be granted a license to ride a motorcycle are still waiting. According to Wael Huraib, founder of Bikers Skills Institute (BSI) — which he claims is the only motorcycle training school for female riders in the Kingdom — no motorbike licenses are currently being issued for women.
“For ladies, as of now, they’re not able to get a license yet, and we don’t really know why,” said Huraib. “We heard that women have received tractor-trailer licenses, but we know for a fact that no motorcycle license applications are being processed. We are assuming the traffic police are very focused on cars, but whatever the problem is, we hope it is resolved soon.”
The royal decree in September 2017 that gave women the right to drive in the Kingdom from June 2018 stipulated that the laws on driving would be equal for men and women. But it appears that is not yet the case, despite assurances from the Saudi Directorate of Traffic a year ago that women would be permitted to drive motorcycles and trucks.

Elena Bukaryeva, an instructor at BSI, said she suspects there is some confusion or miscommunication between the traffic police administration and the licensing division.
“My husband spoke to one of the highest-ranking traffic police officials in Riyadh,” she told Arab News. “He said that there was nothing at all to stop women being issued motorcycle licenses.
“But the following day, one of the ladies who finished our course went to the traffic police and she was told there are no motorcycle licenses for women, only for men. The same thing happened when I applied for my license and when other women did.”
The General Directorate of Traffic did not respond to Arab News’ request for comment.
Bukaryeva said that she has heard of women with licenses issued abroad riding motorcycles in the Kingdom, although added that they are “semi-disguised as men” when doing so.
“When you are wearing loose clothing and a full-face helmet, no one can tell if you are a man or a woman,” she said, adding that she has not tried it herself as her husband told her it was not worth the risk.
BSI began training female riders as soon as the driving ban was lifted.
The company has graduated 18 women so far, including Reem Al-Megbel, a 30-year-old Saudi financial operations manager.
Al-Megbel was at the motorcycle school on Wednesday evening to practice riding, because she cannot, yet, do so on the roads.
“My dream is to wake up one day and have a car and a motorcycle in my garage and be free to choose what to drive,” she said. “It would probably be the motorcycle.”
Al-Megbel added that her “ultimate” dream, though, would be to take a road trip across the Kingdom with a group of fellow female bikers.
“That,” she said, “would be freedom.”