Culture of Arab Drifting (aka Saudi Drifting / Middle East Drifting / Tafheet / Hajwalah)

During the 2000s and early 2010s videos of Arab drifting were viral and the sheer craziness of them shocked the whole world.

So what really is Arab drifting aka Tafheet aka Hajwalah? If you have stumbled upon this article you probably already know, but if you don’t then classic arab drifting is jerking the steering wheel (and sometimes also using the hand brake) to cause rear wheels lose traction on highway at speed of at least 160 km/h (100 mph) and performing side-to-side swaying type of drift and optionally some 360s when the speed has decreased.

What makes Saudi drifting even more striking is that they don’t tend to use sports cars for this activity but regular family sedans instead usually with no modifications done to them like Toyota Camry, Honda Accord or Hyundai Sonata.

Some of the Arab Drifting techniques:

  • Axeyat: Drifting the car by 180 degrees counterclockwise and then by 180 degrees clockwise (or clockwise -> counterclockwise).
  • Harakat Almawt: Initiating a drift and then taking your hands off the steering wheel until the car stops. If you don’t crash and die you have performed the stunt successfully.
  • Sefty: Spinning the car by 360 degrees and then spinning it again by 360 degrees but in opposite direction.
  • Ta’geed: Doing multiple 360s
  • Tanteel: Side-to-side swaying drift, often including other techniques.
  • Tatweef: Passing another car while going sideways, the faster the better. Anything under 160 km/h (100 mph) and you will be considered a coward by your friends.

Tafheet/Hajwalah roots

Arab drifting (Tafheet/Hajwalah) has its roots in 1970s when middle east countries attained massive wealth following 1973 oil crisis and road infrastructure started to develop at exceptional speeds as well wealth of people increased.

But why do we see this phenomenon in Middle East and not elsewhere? A lot of it has to do with conservatism of Middle Eastern countries leading to bored youth that have nothing else to do:

  • Alcohol is banned and so are cinemas – crucial sources of entertainment in other parts of the world.
  • Drugs are extremely frowned upon – on average in Saudi Arabia alone 50 people are executed every year for non-violent drug crimes.
  • Sexual frustration might be heavy force leading to high adrenaline activities to relieve built up emotions. Sexuality is not as liberal in middle east as it’s in western countries. Premarital sex is seen as immoral thing and in some countries adultery can be punished by death. For there reasons many youngsters that haven’t been married yet aren’t able to satisfy their natural sexual needs.
  • It’s a part of culture. Many have said that they grew up watching Tafheet and some consider it like a national sport. It’s associated with masculinity and is a way to gain respect from peers while expressing rebellious nature of young boys.

Almost 40% of students surveyed have revealed they have participated in Tafheet – revealing that it’s a large part of culture rather than just an activity that small minority is accustomed to.

[Ramisetty-Mikler, Susie & Al-Makadma, AbdulKarim. (2016). Attitudes and behaviors towards risky driving among adolescents in Saudi Arabia. International Journal of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. 3. 10.1016/j.ijpam.2016.03.003.)]

Saudi Drifting Consequences

Saudi Arabia has the highest road traffic accident caused deaths per capita in the world. It’s the primary cause of deaths, injuries and disabilities in males aged 16 to 36. In Saudi Arabia there were more than 544,000 accidents in 2011, resulting in more than 39,000 injuries and 7,153 deaths. Speeding plays a role in about 65% of accidents.

[Database: Elsevier – ScienceDirect (ساینس دایرکت)
Journal: International Journal of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine – Volume 3, Issue 2, June 2016, Pages 55–63]

There have been incidents where innocent bystanders die due to drivers losing control while performing Tafheet. Punishment is often very severe in cases like this, thousands of lashes and many years if not decades behind bars, in some cases – even death penalty.

Some of the cases have caught global attention. One of such cases was when 23 year old guy nicknamed “King al-Nazeem” who had gained notoriety online due to his videos was arrested in 2014 and sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for multiple driving offenses. He allegedly got pardoned after expressing regrets and asking for forgiveness only to get back into Tafheet (supposedly convinced by his friends) which didn’t end well for him – he crashed and died.

In another notorious case a drifter got sentenced to death in 2012 after losing control of his car and killing two innocent bystanders.

Governments have tried to cut down popularity of Hajwalah by increasing fines and severity of punishments.

Sidewall skiing (aka Saudi Glide)

If we are talking about Middle Eastern car culture then Sidewall skiing aka Saudi Glide is another outrageous thing popular there that we must talk about. So what’s sidewall skiing? It’s driving on two side wheels instead of all four. This is achieved by lifting one side up by either jerking the steering wheel aggressively (shifting the weight of the car to one side and using that to cause lift) or by driving on a ramp. Once one side is up the driver must be very precise with steering inputs to maintain the balance which takes a lot of skill to perform.

The craziest thing is that Saudis love to lean out of car windows or even take off car wheel and put in back on all while driving on one side.

Sidewall skiing even made it to popular culture where it appeared in 2012 song “Bad Girls” by Mia. It was ranked as 27th best song of the decade by Pitchfork and has over 100 million views on YouTube. I can recall song being played on radio and TV quite often back then.

Leave a Comment