The Arabian Gazelles Take Flight
And after all that, Foucault was right: “Power is everywhere, and comes from everywhere.”
Right now, in the Arab world, that power comes with four wheels and a woman in the driver’s seat. And, in the case of Hanan Mazouzi, the founder of Arabian Gazelles, Dubai’s first female-only supercar club, it also comes with an abundance of horsepower.
“They lifted the ban on driving in Saudi Arabia one year ago,” reflects Mazouzi one recent morning in Dubai.
It’s clear: the iconography created by the Gazelles has caught eyes across the region. Mazouzi founded Arabian Gazelles in 2016. Since then, it’s grown to more than 50 active members – a number that continues to swell across the region. The 43-year-old Algerian force hails from the labyrinthine streets of Algiers – when not driving the Gazelles forward, she’s also the mother of two teenagers, a self-made entrepreneur, and a Formula 3000 racer.
This isn’t a club for those flirting with the idea of a supercar passion. No, being an enthusiast, an aficionado – and, of course, an owner – is prerequisite. Arabian Gazelles is anything but lip service.
“Truth is, we women can drive and we can compete and we do have the same passion,” she says. “Men actually still get shocked when they see women behind the wheel. But perceptions are changing – one guy at a time.”
What was your plan when you first arrived in Dubai 20 years ago?
Not much. I studied business in Algeria in both Arabic and French. My parents were in Qatar back then but the best things were happening in Dubai. I arrived to do a short business course in English and I ended up spending my lifetime here.
Explain the reaction from your male peers when you attended your first F1.
I used to drive in a supercar club with 99 per cent men – it was challenging. At my very first F1, all the guys couldn’t read my name properly so they thought I was a guy, too. The look they gave me wasn’t one of being impressed but was one of questioning: how did that happen? There’s driving, and there’s driving supercars – this is no longer only for men.
And were there any verbal interactions or comments?
I remember when I was first seen behind that wheel presenting the [female-only] supercar club – I was told that it was a sexist idea, and that was surprising. I mean, why is Formula 1 only for men? Why are other hobbies only for men? Isn’t that sexist, too? Sometimes, I think it’s good to feel discriminated against.
Taking the road less travelled in a male-dominated society, how do you feel about it?
I didn’t start it to empower anyone, it was really only to share my passion. When you share your passion, you double your happiness. Some men didn’t want their wives to touch cars at all and I was surprised that these people were our close friends. It’s changing slowly now, and it feels great. I have that realisation when I sit with women I have converted, people who are really happy to have joined the club and shared my passion.
What do you think of masculinity in the Middle East?
I feel that masculinity or manhood doesn’t only stop with how a man looks or what he does, it’s how he supports the women in his life, his environment, and everywhere in-between. For me, a real man is one who refuses to put a barrier in front of women and how they live. It starts with the mother and how she nurtures her son to behave, how to look at manhood differently. I think masculinity is missing tolerance, acceptance and feminism.
New Orleans Airlift, The Trans-National, 2019. Installation view: Sharjah Biennial 14, 2019.
Commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation.
There must have been some challenging moments in establishing Arabian Gazelles.
My first media appearance was an eye-opener. I was getting ready for the interview on-set, and there was a guy sitting there getting ready for an interview as well. He turned and said, “I am a psychologist and in my practice women who are passionate about these kinds of sports are probably having problems with their marriage.” I calmly replied, “If there was a guy sitting here in my place setting up a supercar club, would you tell him the same? Would you think he has problems with his marriage because of his passion for supercars?” That was the moment when I realised that this was not going to be easy.
Was your family supportive about your passion for supercars? Was it something you grew up with?
My dad was very supportive. I’ve always wanted to be a pilot like him, and so the closest thing was really to drive a car. After a very long flight I remember he’d come back home and take me to empty parking lots to teach me how to drive. My mother would go crazy as I was only 12 years old back then but my dad would insist. He’d always tell her, “She wants to drive, so I’ll teach her how to.”
The Gazelles have been already registered as the first female-only supercar club in the KSA. Tell us more about it.
Yes, we’re opening in Saudi soon, we have registered the club already. It’s just too early to release and celebrate the club – that’s one step ahead.
What do you think about the car industry in the region?
It doesn’t have enough women in it – that’s my main thought. I want more women owning car manufacturing businesses, I want the sponsors to see the value in this club and to put money in it. I want business owners to listen to what women have to say.
What’s next for the Arabian Gazelles?
Ideally, I want to connect all the women who have this passion all over the world, step by step. I receive a lot of requests from women around the world to become a member of the club. I’ve been asked for international membership, to create Gazelles around the world, like Gazelles of South Africa, Gazelles of USA, and so on. We, the Gazelles, want to be connected, and to eventually change the landscape of this hobby.
What do you think of millennial-era feminism?
I dare say the media has portrayed a rigid understanding of feminism, so now most of this generation are saying, “That’s really not for me. I don’t believe in feminism but I do support all of the policies, like equal opportunity.”
What do you think Arab societies need the most at the moment?
Tolerance and more Arab role models in all walks of life.
How do you imagine the future for women in the region?
All that I have done for the Gazelles so far was because of women. As more women throughout the Arab world start their own businesses, break down gender barriers and push through the glass ceiling, those pioneers will become an example for other women. They can inspire them to imagine what’s possible for an Arab woman.