Not that long ago, Hanan Mazouzi Sobati faced
flagrant sexism at track days in Dubai. An ardent petrolhead, Sobati
would go to drive her sports car fast -- really fast -- but many of the
overwhelmingly male drivers couldn't see past her gender. "They always
thought I was someone else, accompanying someone. I was just there to
support him, or to sit in the passenger seat," she recalls. "(It's) as
if they didn't see me."
Fellow enthusiast Jalyn Jarvi echoes the sentiment. "You pull up and they expect you to be somebody's girlfriend or wife," she adds. "Everybody's staring at you and it's a little bit uncomfortable."
"It started hitting me that not only they don't expect you to be there, you're not really welcome," says Sobati. Amid the engine noise and tire smoke, an idea was sparked -- one that would become the Arabian Gazelles, Dubai's first all-female supercar club.
Jarvi grew up dreaming of owning a Porsche to roaring around the Emirates in a Ferrari 599 with 620 horsepower under the hood. Uber-wealth allows some to indulge their four-wheeled fantasies, while a desire for the latest models has given birth to a bumper used supercar market, providing opportunities for others. (One need only look at local classified ad site Dubizzle for a taste.) "Cars are 50% the prices of other major cities," says Jarvi. "Of course I'm going buy a sports car. You're stupid not to."
"Their husbands were all scared of me, because I was the one about to corrupt their women.”
She's one of around 80 women from 17 nations Sobati has attracted to her banner as the founder of the Arabian Gazelles. A large percentage are business owners she says, some C-suite executives, while others are housewives. Founded two years ago, their numbers continue to grow.
Sobati has a background in the luxury industry. She was born in Algeria, living in the UK and Qatar before settling in Dubai. Ever since she was a girl playing with her brother's toy cars, autos have been part of the picture. Her passion runs deep; twenty four years on, she describes the death of Formula One driver Ayrton Senna as "one of the worst days of my life."
She buys her automobiles together with her husband (although she admits he's "not much into cars") and counts a Rolls Royce Drophead Phantom and Morgan Aero Supersport among her collection. It was while she was a member of a "99%"-male car club that she thought there must be other female car fanatics out there who would appreciate a group dynamic. "So I set out to find them," she says.
Sobati started with a track day with two neighbors in 2016. They loved it. "After that event they either went out and bought a supercar or they started taking their husbands' cars," Sobati recalls, "which at some point made me the worst person at dinner parties. "Their husbands were all scared of me, because I was the one about to corrupt their women," she adds, laughing.
Social media spread the word. "I found the Arabian Gazelles on Instagram," says 18-year-old member Ghala Al Ketbi, a student in international relations at Sharjah University and owner of a Porsche 911 Carrera.
The Gazelles put activities at the heart of their meets, and brands and manufacturers have sought to sponsor club events. One recent drive in association with luxury fashion retailer Moda Operandi ended in a Harper's Bazaar Arabia feature. McLaren have sponsored track events and Michelin is lining up a workshop day for members, says the founder.