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The Fast and the Furious of Saudi Arabia

posted by Chris Valentine


Source: New York Times

For Saudi Arabia’s vast and underemployed generation of young people, drag racing at night is a rare outlet in an ultraconservative country where the sexes are rigorously segregated and most public entertainment is illegal. This may be the most popular sport of Saudi youth, ranging from garden variety drag racing to drifting (the practice where drivers deliberately spin out and skid sideways at high speeds).

Some young people, asked why they risked their lives this way, said it was because of “tufush,” a colloquial Arabic word for boredom whose meaning is said by some to derive from the gestures made by a drowning man. Drifting, which tends to attract poorer, more marginal men, has also been an unlikely nexus between homosexuality, crime and jihadism since it emerged 30 years ago. Homoerotic desire is a constant theme in Saudi songs and poems about drifting, and accomplished drifters are said to have their pick of the prettiest boys among the spectators. Drugs sometimes also play a role. But a number of drifters have also become Islamic militants, including Youssef al-Ayyeri, the founder of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, who fought in Afghanistan and was killed by security forces in Saudi Arabia in 2003.


“The idea behind drifting is, the economy and society don’t need you,” said Pascal Ménoret, an anthropologist. “They are mostly young Bedouins who recently moved to the city, and whose lives are marked by suffering and self-destructive behavior.” But most racers are more like young men almost anywhere: restless, thrill-seeking and madly in love with cars.

As he drove, Mr. Shulukhi narrated a tale of a recent accident on this road in which a friend’s car had caught on fire during a race, and another one in which a driver had spun out of control and died after his car burst into flames. His world is full of driving disasters and driving heroes, some of them local men. He frequently invokes the racing movies “The Fast and the Furious” and its sequels, and “Death Race.”

…About 5 a.m., the road begins to fill up with delivery trucks driven by Pakistani immigrants, doing the kind of low-wage job most Saudi men refuse to take. The racers decide to call it a night, and drive reluctantly home.

Erhabe (urban dictionary definition): (aka: Dubai Drifting) Crazy Arabian style drifting in which you throw your car back and forth across the road completely out of control, often times completely demolishing large lines of spectators. Usually done in stock, family sedans like the Ford Taurus and Hyundai Sonata.

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