A Middle East bikers’ club hits the road for women’s empowerment

The Women Riders World Relay (WRWR) is one of the largest global motorcycle events for female riders. (Supplied)
Updated 14 September 2019

A Middle East bikers’ club hits the road for women’s empowerment

  • Arab motorcyclists turn sisterhood into a support system in a male-dominated sport
  • The Litas Dubai is the first ever chapter of the motorcycle collective in the Middle East

DUBAI: History was made in 2018, when women in Saudi Arabia were permitted to drive for the first time since 1957. As the world watched female motorists across the Kingdom celebrate, a less visible set of women also quietly stepped out of the shadows and revved up their engines. “Women were interested in motorbikes, but they couldn’t
ride openly in Saudi Arabia,” said Zahra AbuAli, founder of social media group Saudi Women Riders and co-founder of The Litas Khobar, a Saudi chapter of the international all-female motorcycle group The Litas.
“It was an underground scene. They used to wear baggy clothes, hide their hair under helmets, and ride at the center of (mixed) groups. Some girls have licenses from Bahrain, some have bikes but no licenses, and some ride with their husbands.”
AbuAli, a 28-year-old Saudi national, learnt to ride a motorbike last year while working in Dubai.
“I just wanted to try something new, and once I started, I couldn’t stop. Cars in Saudi were only a man thing, but that didn’t mean they’re made only for men,” she said.
The horsepower thrill was amplified when the biomedical engineer began to ride her Harley 883 Sportster with Lara Tarabay Saab, founder of The Litas Dubai, the first chapter of the motorcycle collective in the Middle East.
Saab, who is from Lebanon, said that she founded the group to alter perceptions and help female bikers find each other and ride together as a sisterhood.
“My vision is to make our community as women bikers in the Middle East visible to the world. I don’t want them to think of us in stereotypes,” she explained.
The Litas Dubai currently features 10 women from Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, Palestine, Morocco, Russia and the UAE. The group includes police officers, doctors, artists, engineers, management professionals and mothers.
“Thirteen years ago, if I stood anywhere with my bike, people would come and speak to me in English and be surprised when I answered in Arabic,” Roqayya Abdullateif, 37, said.
The Emirati police officer said that she mastered the handlebars simply by watching her brothers riding bikes. “I saw girls sitting in the back of the bike, and I said why not sit in the front?”
Saab, who initially rode as part of mixed groups in the UAE, said that she also formed the sisterhood as a support system in a male-dominated sport. “Our culture dictates a few things for us. Typical lady behavior wouldn’t be to be on a motorcycle, so it wasn’t easy (for me) at all.
“I was in Italy with my husband, and I wanted to ride a scooter. He said, ‘No, you can’t.’ When I’d ask him to teach me, he’d say ‘It’s very heavy, you can’t even lift it.
“This triggered a lot in me in terms of my sense of existence, freedom of choice and power.”
Saab, a mother of two and a marketing director, now cruises on a Sportster 1200cc, but her journey to this point involved attending 7 a.m. lessons before heading to work.
“I had to come to my husband to sign the form to give me approval … because I’m on his sponsorship,” she said. “He said it’s dangerous and that I should talk to my father first. (But) I said there’s no way I’m not doing this.”
Saab, who also co-founded The Litas Lebanon, is UAE ambassador for the Women’s International Motorcycle Association and Middle East ambassador for the Women Riders World Relay (WRWR).
“We have a lot of women who message us with questions about motorcycles or asking where we learnt to ride,” Saab said. Set to take place in Dubai in 2020, the WRWR is one of the largest global motorcycle events for female riders, created to raise awareness of women across all spheres of motorcycling. The UAE and Oman are the only Middle Eastern states included in the tour of 80 countries, with Dubai marked as the final destination. Saab and her pack are already holding information sessions for the event.
“This is for women’s empowerment because models who pose on bikes are not lady bikers,” she said.


This report is being published by Arab News as a partner of the Middle East Exchange, which was launched by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region.


Financial Action Task Force tightens screws on Tehran over terror financing

Updated 39 min 43 sec ago

Financial Action Task Force tightens screws on Tehran over terror financing

  • Watchdog says Iran failed to fulfill its promises to curb terror financing despite repeated warnings
  • Iran central bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati said the decision will not affect the country

PARIS: An international agency monitoring terrorism funding announced tough new financial scrutiny of Iran on Friday and added seven countries to a watch list.

Pakistan, meanwhile, won a reprieve from the Financial Action Task Force at its meetings in Paris this week. The monitoring body gave Pakistan’s government another four months to crack down on terrorism financing and did not put the country on a damaging “black list.”

Iran and North Korea are the only two countries currently on the agency’s black list. That means international financial transactions with those countries are closely scrutinized, making it costly and cumbersome to do business with them. International creditors can also place restrictions on lending to black-listed countries.

The FATF decided on Friday to further tighten the screws on Iran, imposing extra measures that could require audits or more transactions and make it even harder for foreign investors to do business there.

The group made the decision because Iran failed to fulfill its promises to the FATF despite repeated warnings. In a statement, the organization said that Iran hasn’t done enough to criminalize terrorist financing, require transparency in wire transfers or freeze terrorist assets targeted by UN sanctions.

The head of Iran’s central bank, Abdolnasser Hemmati, said the decision will not affect the country.

“Such incidents will create no problem for Iran’s foreign trade and currency,” he said in a statement. Hemmati said the FATF decision was based on the “enmity” of the US and Israel toward Iran.

Pakistan, meanwhile, has been trying to get off the FATF gray list, the color code for countries that are only partially fulfilling international rules for fighting terrorism financing and money laundering.

Pakistan’s government has been working to shore up the country’s faltering economy and attract foreign investment and loans, making the FATF’s assessment especially important.

The FATF said that Pakistan had fulfilled 14 of 27 steps to get off the watch list, but still must do more to track money transfers and investigate and prosecute terrorism financiers.

The Pakistani government said in a statement that it “stands committed for taking all necessary action required” to fulfill the remaining steps. “A strategy in this regard has been formulated and is being implemented.”

The Financial Action Task Force also put seven new countries on its gray list because of gaps or failures in stemming the financing of terrorist groups or money laundering. The countries — Albania, Barbados, Jamaica, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nicaragua and Uganda — were ordered to take a series of legal and other steps to be removed from the list and avoid further financial punishment.