Saudi Woman Pioneer to Pedal for Peace

JEDDAH, 16 September 2005 — Fed up with the painfully slow pace of the Middle East peace process, about 250 women from 25 countries will be riding bicycles to pedal for peace. One bicycle will sport the flag of Saudi Arabia, and it will be ridden by one of the Kingdom’s most remarkable women.

The 288-km ride, which starts in Beirut today and winds through Syria and Jordan before concluding at Ramallah in Palestine, is called “Follow the Women” and is meant to send a message to world leaders to get on with it and stop the suffering that continuous conflict brings.

Dr. Hayat Sindi’s participation is appropriate, as her leadership and pioneering spirit already serves as a model for the Saudi women of the future. A leading Saudi medical researcher who graduated from Cambridge University with a doctorate degree in biotechnology, Dr. Sindi is taking part in the ride with the encouragement of several members of the Saudi royal family, including Prince Turki Al-Faisal, the Kingdom’s ambassador to the United States, and Princess Seetah bint Abdul Aziz, who gave Dr. Sindi a pendant with the likeness of King Abdullah, the princess’ brother, to wear during the bikeathon.

Dr. Sindi spoke with Arab News during a telephone interview from France, enthusiastic and resolute in her belief that women working together can help bring peace to the Middle East. “The ride is aimed at raising awareness of how the spiral of violence in the Middle East is blighting the lives of women and children who often suffer the worst consequences of the painfully slow pace of the peace process,” she said.

The Follow the Women bike ride, which concludes Sept. 26, is sponsored by the UK’s Centre for High Performance Development. Well known international youth worker, Detta Regan, is the organizer of the event. Regan won the “UK Woman of Europe” award for 2001. “Women do not traditionally cycle in the Middle East,” Regan said. “So the sight of a large female-only group will attract huge interest.”

For part of the journey where the terrain is too difficult the women will travel by coach with their bikes going by truck. They get back on their bicycles near the Syrian border, then cycle to Damascus and on the desert road to Yarmouk University, Jordan and finally into the West Bank.
“We will visit the Sabra and Shatilla camps and share the pain of the Palestinian people,” Dr. Sindi said. “They have gone through the worst in life. We want to see firsthand how they are coping and share their grief and to express our solidarity with them.”

She said this might seem like a small exercise and to some it may be an exercise in futility but there has to be a beginning for peace. “My advice to my countrymen in Saudi Arabia is to take that small step. Let us not just sit tight and do nothing. We all can make a difference.”
Prince Turki Al-Faisal has called Dr. Sindi the model Arab woman; this latest effort attests to that endorsement.

Dr. Sindi was born in Makkah to a modest family. She is one of eight children. From an early age, she admired scientists, such as Al-Kindi, Khwarizmi, Ibn Sina, Newton and Einstein.
In her 20s, Dr. Sindi invented a device combining light and ultrasound for use in the field of biotechnology. She dreams of one day establishing a center of excellence in Saudi Arabia.
“There are a lot of misconceptions about Saudi women and I want to dispel them. If I can make a small difference in the way Saudi woman are perceived outside, then all this will be very good,” Dr. Sindi said. “By taking part in this ride, I want to convey to the larger world that Saudi women are second to none. We have our traditions, and we are proud of them. But we live in a global village, and we should contribute to the peace effort worldwide.”

The ride will be challenging but Dr. Sindi regularly goes to the gym, believing that a healthy mind needs a healthy body. As a Saudi woman she has a point to prove and, trusts in Allah to see her through the test.

Dr. Sindi remarked that Prince Turki encouraged her to take part in the ride when he was the ambassador to the United Kingdom and she thanked him for his inspiration.

“It gives me a great thrill to ride a bike that will have the Saudi green fluttering proudly at the back. Plus, I am carrying a picture of our beloved King Abdullah on my necklace. Also, I have a pin that says ‘No to Terrorism,’” she said. “We need to learn from each other, respect others and hold onto our dreams and work to realize them. It is time for all the good people of the world to come together and work for peace.”
Written by: Siraj Wahab

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