Dreams Come True on Everest for Arab Women

An all-female Arab team summited the world’s tallest mountain on May 23rd, becoming symbols of women empowerment in the process.

Dreams Come True on Everest for Arab Women

Like the storms that forced climbers to rush the summit in a brief weather window, controversy surrounded Mt. Everest this season, catalyzed by media reports of dangerous “traffic jams” on the peak. Amid declamations of overcrowding, inexperience, and incompetence, four women from Arab countries—the “Dream of Everest” team—quietly notched historical summits.

We've been following The Dream of Everest summit attempt for the past few weeks. You can read and watch all the dispatches here.

The Dream of Everest team, L-R: Shahab, Azzam, Attar, and Alharthy. Photos by Elias Saikaly.

Joyce Azzam and Nelly Attar of Lebanon, Nadhirah Alharthy of Oman, and Mona Shahab of Saudi Arabia climbed to the top of the world’s tallest mountain on the morning of May 23rd. Azzam became the first Lebanese woman to complete the Seven summits, with Attar following her as the second Lebanese woman to summit Mt. Everest. Alharthy became the first Omani woman to reach the summit of Everest, and Shahab became the second Saudi woman to do so. Their accomplishment is evidence that despite the growing controversy of Everest expeditions, summiting the world’s tallest mountain can be much more than a bucket-list objective for wealthy hobbyists. By reaching the top of the world, Azzam, Attar, Alharthy, and Shahab sent a message of determination and ambition to Arab women.

The now-infamous summit queue. Photo by Nirmal Purja via Project Possible.

Overcrowding on Everest is due in part to the increasing number of summit-seekers; this year the Nepalese government issued a record 381 permits. Because all climbers must be accompanied by a sherpa, over 800 people pressed towards the summit this season. In addition to indiscriminate permitting, poor weather and inexperience may have contributed to traffic jams and fatalities. Elia Saikaly, the Dream of Everest team coordinator, cited bargain expedition companies as another face of the problem.

"Where we really need to be looking is at the experience level (and lack thereof) of some climbers and the choices made by those individuals in terms of their logistic providers," he said in an Instagram post. "We climbers all know which local company carries the burden of the highest loss of life. They happen to offer very cheap pricing which is enticing for some." Arguably, some climbers have skimped on safety to check off a high-profile precipice. Economizing on Everest, according to Saikaly, allows hopefuls to "cut corners" at the imperilment of others on the mountain.

But those who bemoan the corrosion of the Everest experience can look to the Dream of Everest team as exemplars of the immutable symbolism of reaching the summit of the world’s tallest mountain. To accomplish their goal, the Dream of Everest women overcame gendered prejudices. They sent shock-waves through the Arab world, as evidenced by a statement by Omani Ahmed Al Musalmi, CEO of Sahar International Bank, that "Nadhirah’s win has gone a long way in demonstrating that women can achieve any goal that they are passionately determined to achieve". Oman, along with Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, rank among the bottom 20 countries in the World Economic Forum's 2018 Global Gender Gap Report. The dreamers from these countries, at the roof of the world, have the invaluable potential to empower Arab women by example. Everest is still a mountain where dreams come true.

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