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What It’s Like to Be the Uber of the Middle East

Careem, the region’s ride-hailing leader, is counting on loosened laws to raise its appeal.
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Illustration: Inkee Wang for Bloomberg Businessweek

Careem Networks FZ LLC, a five-year-old ride-hailing company based in Dubai, operates in 80 cities across 13 countries from North Africa to Pakistan and leads the field in most of them. The company has done best in countries with scant public transport options where large swaths of the population can’t or don’t drive. Its biggest market is Saudi Arabia, where women aren’t yet allowed behind the wheel but are permitted to ride unaccompanied in cabs with male drivers.

Those cabs can be pricey and aren’t always safe—two reasons, Careem says, why 4 in 5 Saudi women have used its service. One of the company’s principal goals is “to provide a safe, worry-free ride for women, especially in Saudi Arabia,” says Chief Executive Officer Mudassir Sheikha. Now, as the kingdom prepares to loosen its social strictures, Sheikha is betting that women’s increased freedoms will make Careem more appealing, not less.