01/28/2015, 00.00
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Braving Arab-Islamic tradition, Egyptian women are beginning to use the bicycle

Most men in the Arab world's largest Sunni nation view women who ride a bicycle as "shameless". However, despite the traffic, poor safety and lack of bike lanes in Cairo, riding saves time and money (for gas). Go Bike encourages cycling. President al-Sisi did the same by taking part in a cycling marathon.

Cairo (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Even though there is no law against it, Egyptian society still finds it hard to have women ride their bicycle largely because of men, who often attack or insult women who break with tradition.

In Egypt, women enjoy more freedom than in deeply conservative Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, where they cannot ride a bicycle.

In fact, social conventions only allow men to ride a bicycle in the most populous Sunni Arab country.

For women, cycling is still considers inappropriate, seemingly because the two-wheeler is unsafe for travelling in Cairo's traffic-clogged roads. Yet, some women dare to pedal.

One of those who do is 31-year-old executive secretary Yasmine Mahmoud who, for the past four years, has used her bicycle to go to work.

Speaking on her way out, Mahmoud told Middle East Online (26 January) that she used to ride a bicycle when she was kid.

Initially, her family objected because of the capital's notoriously unsafe streets, but later started trusting her ability to cruise through its many traffic bottlenecks.

Despite the risks, one of the reasons she rides a bicycle is to save time and the money required for gas.

For Mahmoud and other women, unsafe roads are not the main concern, but the city's notorious sexual violence, and female cyclists in particular are targeted by passers-by, outraged at women on a two wheels.

Sexual assaults against women rose following the 2011 uprising that toppled president Hosni Mubarak, with hundreds of attacks reported, partly as a result of greater insecurity.

Still, fear has not stopped Yasmine Mahmoud, who is member of Go Bike, a group that promotes cycling and arranges cycling tours every Friday.

Go Bike wants bicycles to replace cars for travelling short distances, something that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi approves.

In July last year, the Egyptian president took part in a cycling marathon to encourage people to switch from four to two wheels.

Go Bike aims to "change society's perception" about women and girls riding bicycles, said the group's spokeswoman Hadeer Samy. "We want bicycles to be a means for Egyptian girls to break the moulds of customs and traditions."

For women still hesitating to ride on their own on the streets, Mahmoud has some words of advice.

"Try not to be scared. Forget those around you, challenge yourself and just enjoy," she said, hopping onto her bicycle and pedalling off into Cairo's busy streets.

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